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My Quest For Peace: One Israeli's Journey From Hatred To Peacemaking

 
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p={color:#000;}. Praise for My Quest For Peace

“This book will sweep you up in its narrative force and not let go of you until it is done. Kis-Lev’s accomplishment is so unique, and the stories he brings are so moving, that it makes you believe anything is possible, even, God help us, peace in the Middle East.” 

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p>{color:#000;}. Ashton Jakes

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Captivating! The pacing of the story is actually very well done, jumping back and forth in time. Its story holds much importance and teaches about human nature and the possibility of peace to prevail.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Jane Silva, author and columnist

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p<>{color:#000;}. “In this richly detailed, beautiful and resonant memoir examining both the Jewish and the Arab sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kis-Lev gives the terrible conflict a human face. The tale opens with Jonathan’s own memories from the Gulf War, when he was only five years old—and moves back and forth in time to portray Jonathan’s life as a peace activist. Through his eyes we experience the indignities and sufferings experienced by children of both sides of the conflict, as well as their unbelievable ability to create long lasting friendships. Kis-Lev makes a great effort to empathize with all sides and tells an affecting and important story that succeeds as both literature and social commentary.”

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p>{color:#000;}. John Vista, Amazon Books Review

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p<>{color:#000;}. “As a Palestinian, it was a fascinating read for me peeling back how to feel beneath another person’s skin, across a vast chasm, a chasm I was born into. I felt choked up several times. Jonathan masterfully illustrated the agony of both sides of the conflict. This book will open your heart and soul.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Laila Hoja, Amazon Books Review

“Today’s headline news from an individual human perspective, real, raw and revealing.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Joan Kelvin

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Kis-Lev’s personal memoir is a powerful portrayal of what might be labeled the “other side” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the viewpoint of peace activists, about whom we rarely hear in the news. We meet Jonathan’s Palestinian friends, hear their stories and cannot decipher whether Kis-Lev is actually a right wing Israeli, having been an Israeli soldier and supporting the settlements in the West Bank, or rather a pro-Palestinian activist, defending the Palestinian narrative as if it was his own.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Tova Hansel, author and speaker

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p<>{color:#000;}. “An honest look by an honest person at the dichotomy Israelis find ourselves in – by nature we love mankind, but are forced into a situation where we are expected to hate. And yet it is not in our nature. Jonathan Kis-Lev tells you his story – from childhood to adulthood – and you will be riveted by the honesty, the love, and the energy he exudes.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Susan Leibtag, Amazon Books Review

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Through Jonathan’s own experience, as well as that of his family and friends, we travel through three generations of conflict and pain in the Middle East. An intimate look at the peacemaking scene from the eyes of a young leader seeking to bring forth a new future to that battered region.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Jo Levi, The Reviewer

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Kis-Lev is an Israeli activist for peace. Unlike some on the Israeli Left, he isn’t an anti-Israel provocateur. Rather, he is a fervently patriotic Israeli with an abiding love for his nation’s history and the best of its traditions and institutions. So his honest and sometimes brutally frank portrait of his homeland’s past and its present dilemmas is especially poignant.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Daniel J. Okla, The Jewish Daily

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Kis-Lev’s memoir utilizes the stories of individuals, both Israelis and Palestinians, to paint a rich story based on personal experiences. With him we travel through the land to various peace activities… This is a masterful portrait of contemporary Israel and Palestine.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Katie Shvoljann, Radio for Coexistence

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Kis-Lev is immersed in all of the history of his country. While some of it offends him, none of it is alien to him. The author of My Quest for Peace is a dreamer, yes, yet he is deeply rooted in the harsh reality. Kis-Lev’s book is an extended test of his own capacity to maintain the principles of peace in full view of the brutality that surrounds him.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Aven K. Lint, Israel Weekly (“HaShavua”)

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p<>{color:#000;}. “An important and powerful book. Kis-Lev has an undoctrinaire mind. He comes not to praise, nor to blame, but instead to observe and to reflect. It is an Israeli book, both loving and critical of Israel’s successes and failures. Yet it is also a Palestinian book, embracing and suffering the pains of the Palestinian narrative. It is about the entirety of the Holy Land’s experience….”

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p>{color:#000;}. Alison  Kahn, Peace For The Future

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p<>{color:#000;}. “I spent the whole of last weekend reading ‘My Quest For Peace’. For two days I did not leave the world Jonathan had trapped me in. As I finished the book and took a walk outside, I stopped seeing people as strangers. All I saw was love. And I suddenly thought that peace in the Middle East may very well be possible!”

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p>{color:#000;}. John Vitals, Ph.D

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Despite due respect for this young activist, I did not really expect to like this memoir very much. What could the author have accomplished in such a short life? I thought the title, too, was rather boastful. All wrong. The writing is surprisingly fluent, the storytelling surprisingly efficient and free of waste as well as redundancies. Also free of sentimentality and exaggerated pathos. Was never boring. Highly recommendable!”

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p>{color:#000;}. Nadia Joels

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p<>{color:#000;}. “This book should be a required reading for Palestinian and Israeli youth. It covers each stage of Jonathan’s life, beginning with his early childhood in a family of Jewish Russian immigrants to Israel, through his education in Canada and his encounters with Palestinians, and eventually through his struggle for peace and nonviolence. Criticized by his own friends, moving in opposition to his upbringing, attacked by the other side – this is a heroic journey of a peace warrior.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Dan Klein

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p<>{color:#000;}. “I was intrigued from the very first chapter of the book. As I began to read further, I discovered I needed to confront my own fears, stereotypes and hatred. World Peace is gained by listening, learning, talking, withholding judgment and building mutual respect despite differences. Jonathan Kis-Lev honestly shares his own journey, his deep fears and hatred. He opens, blossoms, and takes the reader along with him. He writes freely and with the expression of someone who takes delight in what is new, learning from what is old, and moving into the future with bravery, and happy expectations.”

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p>{color:#000;}. Michelle Tessaro, Amazon Books Review

 

My Quest

For Peace

 

One Israeli’s Journey From Hatred To Peacemaking

Jonathan Kis-Lev

Text copyright © 2016 Jonathan Kis-Lev

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without express written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Please refer all pertinent questions to the publisher.

Published in the United States by Goldsmith Press in cooperation with Amazon Publishing House LLC.

Editor: Tania von-Ljeshk
Cover photograph: Scott Durham
Profile photograph: Doug Ellis Photography
Cover design: Slava “Inkjet” Noh

 

ISBN-13: 978-1537163536

ISBN-10: 1537163531

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DEDICATION

 

To my daughter, Sarah, and to all the children of the Middle East, for whom I wish for a better future

 

 

 

 

My Quest

For Peace

 

 

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February 1991

Age 5

“I hate Arabs!” I thought to myself.

Of course. Who wouldn’t? Because of these “Arabs” I am crammed here, into this small room, forced to wear this stinky rubber-smelling scary black gas mask. My older sister, who is like a mother to me, seems anxious and terrified. Even my older brother looks distressed. My two young sisters are crying. My mother is trying to console my baby sister, but to no avail. My father is nervously playing with the radio, trying to find the news reporting of where exactly the missiles are falling.

I am five years old.

As I am writing these words now, at the age of 30, I get teary-eyed. No wonder I don’t like to think about it. Emotions are still raw.

Why should I even write about the fear, the sirens, running from the backyard to the small room? Why should I write about how my father opened the brown masking tape and taped it along the line where the door meets the door-frame, and I saw how nervous he was – he, my father, who has always been so strong and wise – seeming now so… scared? Why should I write of the fear of hearing the missile coming any second? Why should I write about me holding in my bowels for fear of soiling myself, the pain unbearable, thinking I was going to explode?

This is too much to write about. These are tender memories. I don’t speak of them. Actually, I never really spoke of them. Why should I trust you, the reader, to understand? Why should I trust that you will not laugh at me and my five-years-old fears?

And yet, I continue writing. Breathe in, breathe out.

I don’t remember many memories from that age. Most memories have washed away with time: I don’t recall my birthday, even though there are pictures of it; I don’t recall the day we drove to the beach, even though there are photos from there. But I do remember being stuck in this tiny room
with everyone for what felt like long days.

Whenever a siren would burst our quiet village, we would run to the “shelter”. The instructions were to go to an underground shelter. If there wasn’t one near by, families were instructed on the radio and in the newspaper and in pamphlets given by the government – to create a safe shelter in their house. That meant to take a room and to seal its windows totally, as well as the door.

My dad was busy putting the masking tape on. I think he also put it on the floor, in the crease beneath the door. And I also think he put a wet towel like the radio often instructed, to keep out gas or fumes or something like that, in case of a bombing. I didn’t understand everything. I just understood that my dad was not acting as usual.

This has been a repeated event in the last few weeks. The sirens. Running. Putting on the gas masks. My father putting masking tape around the door. My baby sister crying.

I knew how laborious it was to put the tape around the door, and I also knew how dangerous it was to go outside the door. And yet, I clearly remember how once I badly needed to go to the bathroom. I really needed to go.

I guess there must have been pleading and attempts of convincing me that I can wait. I guess I either cried or whined, “I need to go, I need to go!”

It was probably a few weeks after the beginning of the war. I assume that now, because I think my parents were tired of the whole routine. And because if it were in the first few days or so, my father would have not been able to convince my mother to let me out to the bathroom.

“Betty,” my father pleaded to my mother, “let’s let him go, it’s OK…”

I felt as if I was going to explode. It was embarrassing.

Eventually my mother relented. “OK, Jon baby, but you have to be quick!”

I nodded. My father then pulled up the tapes around the door, and the door squeaked as the remains of the masking tape separated from the top and from the bottom of the door.

“Quick! Go!” my father said and hurried to close the door behind me. As I heard the sound of him reestablishing the tape around the door from the other side, stretching the tape from the tape-roll, I realized that I was… not inside anymore. The sound of the tape, replaced on the door, the squeak of the roll of tape stretching yet another long band, made me feel as if that was it. It was over.

I don’t have many memories from age five. Birthdays and beaches are long gone. But the clarity of the darkened hallway – when we ran into the room it was light outside, now it was dark – the clarity of that darkened hallway, cold, pitch-black – is very vivid.

I don’t have many memories, but I do remember how I sat on the toilet seat, scared to my bones. I was certain, absolutely certain, that in the next moment the missile was going to hit, and I, little Jonathan, would be dead.

I eventually returned to the hallway and felt my way in the darkness to my parents’ room. I knocked, and heard the tape being removed from the door. I entered, so glad to be back, protected.

But somewhere within me, the little boy I was is still seated on the toilet seat; darkness, cold, awaiting the missile.

It was then that I understood that I hate Arabs. It was because of them that I was put in this situation. I hated them.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. I Love Arabs?

March 2012

Age 26

“But… He was Arab, and…”

I can hear the confusion in her voice. Iris, my secretary, looks confused.

I am 26 years old. Iris, about my age, is sitting at her desk. I hired her a few weeks ago to help me with my art, packing, shipping my paintings, producing receipts, etc. – all the stuff I disliked to do myself. I could afford it, business was going well. And Iris was resourceful and kind.

And…?” I ask.

I can see the confusion in Iris’ eyes. I just returned to the gallery after a few hours of running errands. It was almost five, and it was time for her to go home, but she was eager to tell me who called. I had my cellphone on call forwarding to the gallery’s phone. Someone had called, speaking in Hebrew with an obvious thick Arab accent, and asked to speak with Jonathan. Most of the clients for my art were either Jewish or Christian or international tourists. Iris was not used to hearing an Arab accent.

“He said his name is… Mohammad…!” Iris continued. The way she pronounced the name was as if the mere utter of such a name was to bring her some immediate disease. “Jonathan! Who was he? What does he want from you?!”

“Oh, he’s just a friend,” I explained, looking at her facial responses, feeling both pity and amusement.

“A friend?”

“Yep.”

“Friend from?”

“I think,” I said, “he’s from Ramallah.” I wasn’t sure exactly.

“Ram… Ram…” Iris was now in sheer horror.

“Ram-a-llah,” I pronounced it and could not stop myself from cracking up. “We met at some artists meeting for peace, he was the facilitator, a great guy. Now I’m trying to organize another meeting, and I asked him to come,” I explained, trying to get serious and to not seem disrespectful. I totally understood where Iris was coming from.

Iris first stared at me in bewilderment. Then, her eyes narrowed, and I sensed how she was re-evaluating her boss. She knew that I was weird (‘He’s an artist after all’), but, was I really so off the rails?

“Do you think…” Iris said, and I sensed how she was trying to choose her words carefully, “like, you think that they really want peace? Like, I have nothing against them and all, but, aren’t you scared?”

“Well,” I said, and realized that I needed to choose my words carefully. If I disregarded her well-justified fear, she would think that I was crazy, and worse than that – maintain her existing view of Arabs. But I sensed that there was a real moment of openness, a window of opportunity has opened and she was willing to listen.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t think that Arabs are saints, I’m not crazy, saints don’t hang people or explode and kill innocent people like they do all the time.”

“Of course!” she exclaimed, and I could see that she was more than relieved by my statement.

“But,” I continued, “I do think that amongst them there are a few who don’t really want to kill us.”

I knew that had I said “There are few among them who want peace,” it would have sounded as if I lived in La-La-Land. Saying instead, “There are few amongst them that don’t really want to kill us,” was to enable her to actually entertain this new, crazy notion.

“Yes, but they are only a few,” she said, and I could sense her short breath and fast pace building, “and where are they? They don’t dare speak up! They are led by those Hamas and murderers and most of them, Jonathan, would prefer to see you and me dead! Dead! Slaughtered!”

I take a breath. “I agree with you.”

In the past I would hurry to argue, I would try and convince her that peace is possible, that the vast majority of Palestinians are actually peace-loving. I saw many of my peace activist friends run into arguments trying to convince people, arguing about borders, wars, history, international law, etc. My experience showed me that in 100 percent of these circumstances nothing would come out of it. Both sides of the argument, left and right, would remain more stubborn and more sure of themselves than when they started.

I therefore learned to slow down. Not to enter into fights – I had learned that by choosing to argue I’d quickly lose any possibility of reaching understanding.

Seeing that I agree with her, Iris seemed pleased. She packed her purse and was about to leave. “Well,” she said, “what should I do next time if he calls?”

“Oh, no worries,” I said as I began setting up my easel and oils, “he wrote to me yesterday on Facebook, I will reply to him there.”

Facebook??” Iris said with terror, her fingers tightening on her purse, “He’s your friend on Facebook?? You… you… accepted him as your friend?”

I could see how her head was thinking fast. ‘If Jonathan is her friend on Facebook, and this terrorist is actually Jonathan’s friend on Facebook…’

Amused, I whispered, “Iris, what have you done? Now you are one degree of separation from…” and I suddenly screamed: “Hamas!”

Iris jumped and then laughed, “You idiot!”

I laughed too. I was happy that we could ease some of the tension around this sensitive subject.

Iris sighed, “I knew I shouldn’t have Facebook-friended you that quickly! I saw you were a crazy artist and all, I watched your video!”

She is referring to my YouTube video in which I talk about my art while dancing, singing and doing crazy stuff in the gallery. Now this crazy guy, her new boss, has proven to be a Hamas recruiter or something…

Seeing that I had started to paint,
Iris was about to leave. Yet, for some reason she kept lingering near the gallery’s door. Then she asked quietly, “But, Jonathan, seriously, aren’t you afraid?”

I looked up at her from my easel. “Afraid of what? That they’ll hurt me? That they’ll gather some intelligence information about me and find me at my home at night?”

Iris shrugged, “No! Well, yes! I mean, I would never befriend one of them, who knows if they are members of Hamas or Al-Qaida or something, you don’t even know if this Mohammad guy isn’t…”

“You should meet him,” I said, “he’s actually a very nice guy.” I say as I see her disbelieving face. “He’s really gentle actually.”

Iris stood there quietly for a moment, probably pondering the dissonance between “gentle” and “Arab”. Then she reawakened, “But, Jonathan… Facebook? Do you know what they can find out about you today on the internet?”

“Yes, it’s scary,” I said, and then asked, trying to pose my question as plainly and innocently as can be: “But isn’t it also scary to think that if I don’t befriend them on Facebook, and if no Israeli, none, ever befriends a Palestinian, then the situation might just… continue the way it is…?”

Iris was quiet. I could see that she was thinking. Really
thinking. Reevaluating. I saw it in her eyes as she said, “Goodbye, see ya tomorrow,” and exited the gallery, slower than her usual quick step. I see her crossing the street through the glass windows. I stay there painting, working on leaves of an olive tree in a Jerusalem landscape, and think of the first time I was forced to reevaluate.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. The First Time I Was Forced to Reevaluate

July 1997

Age 11

I was 11 years old when I was forced to reevaluate.

“Jonathan,” my art teacher Amy told me, “there’s this art camp weekend in three weeks I want you to go to.”

Amy didn’t know me nor my family. We just moved from the village I was born in to Tel Aviv, the big city. My mother somehow found her, and Amy was willing to accept me into her summer classes for a nominal fee. I loved painting in her studio, and often stayed there long after the other kids were gone.

Yet Amy didn’t know us. Being a relatively low income family, five kids, we were barely scraping by. My friends from class would go to all kinds of fancy summer camps, that I could only dream of going to. Most of them have even been abroad. I was never abroad. Most of them went to vacations with their families. We never vacationed. Amy didn’t know that.

“Amy,” I said, “my parents don’t have the money to send me to that kind of stuff. But thank you anyway…”

I was sure that it was about to be it, that she would smile apologetically and hurry to change the subject.

But instead, Amy continued, rather eagerly, “No, no, Jonathan, you see, this is a funded project, you don’t need to pay for it!”

What? I was in disbelief. From her short description I could understand that this was a weekend thing, and therefore must include staying overnight, and food, and all… Could it really be for… free?

“How can that be?” I asked.

“Well,” Amy smiled, “it’s money coming from abroad into these kind of programs … I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!”

It turned out that ‘these kind of programs
’ meant joint Israeli and Palestinian programs. With Arabs. And I didn’t like it at all.

I was not stupid enough to want to go to some alluring camp for a weekend, and not come back in one piece.

My mother also thought it was a crazy idea, especially when she heard that the camp was to take place in a place called Nablus. I didn’t know where that was, but I thought I once heard of this place in the news.

The next week Amy asked me whether I signed up already.

“No!” I exclaimed, “I’m not crazy to go and be with Arabs! I’m too young to die!”

I think Amy’s look was compassionate. She told my eleven year old self that it was actually safe, that there was security there, and that these “Arabs” were kids, just like me, that liked to draw and paint, just like me, and that we will all have fun together.

“I will not go!” I said, determined. Just a few
months ago there was a cafe that was blown up in Tel Aviv, and people were killed. A few days before there was a suicide bombing attack in the market in Jerusalem, where two suicide bombers exploded simultaneously, killing many people. It’s one thing, I thought, to continue living in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and get killed. But it’s a totally other thing to go to a dangerous place like Nablus, a name which seemed synonymous with danger.

And yet Amy’s words penetrated my thoughts. Kids ‘just like you’? Who liked to draw and paint ‘just like you’?

And remember, Jonathan, it is free.

An art weekend. For free.

It took a few days before I began thinking that if there was security there, and if Amy – who seems to love me – wants me to go there, and if someone is actually paying for it all, then, perhaps, possibly, maybe I… should go?

My mom disagreed. “No way I’m sending you there!”

“But Mom,” I said, “there’s security there, and it’s safe, and it’s only kids, and only two days, mom!”

My mom called Amy and interrogated her. “Have you been there yourself? Who is organizing it? Why? How many children will be there? When exactly will they come back?”

She then got a phone number of a guy called Adi, and interrogated him as well, for a long, long time.

I felt bad for him. My mom was not easy to deal with.

“Well,” she finally said after hanging up, “I will consult with your dad.”

I knew, however, that the final decision was up to my mom. She was the boss in the family.

“Dad,” I begged to my father that evening, “please, please, please let me go! It’s for free dad! I didn’t go into any summer camp or anything!”

Eventually my mom relented. But she kept telling me the days before that weekend that I must keep myself very safe, and if anything looks weird or suspicious, then I must go straight away to the security guards that will be present there.

I kept telling her, “Don’t worry, Mom!”

When the designated day came, my mom was nervous, but I promised her that I would be alright, and that I would protect myself if anything happens.

“Promise me,” she grabbed my arms and looked me straight in the eyes, “that if you see anything suspicious, anything at all – you go to the security man and you tell him!”

“I promise, Mom, I promise!”

“And keep your eyes open!” she said. My mom was a tough person. But I was alarmed to see her eyes becoming moist
.

“Don’t worry mom!!!”

I climbed onto the bus, whe re all of us, Israeli Jewish children were quite nervous to go, for the first time, to Nablus. Though it was only two hours away, it felt is if we were going far, far away. I was hoping I would be safe coming back, on the same bus, tomorrow evening. In one piece.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. Nablus

August 1997

Age 11

It took some two hours for the bus to get to Nablus. I remember looking through the window the whole way there, wondering when will we get “there”. “There” sounded so different, scary and odd. I practically expected the trees to be different. Therefore I was a little disappointed when eventually the bus parked by what seemed to me totally like things back home. It also did not seem poor or run down, on the contrary – we parked near what seemed like a new community center.

Then, suddenly, tons of kids from inside the community center came out, flooding the parking area. As I looked at them through the window I was alarmed. Why are they surrounding the bus?

But then I saw they were excited. They jumped up and down, their faces curious, anticipating, exuberant, as they looked up to my window.

They looked not much different than us, on the bus. Some of them were a little darker in color. The girls seemed mostly shy and stood further away. The boys seemed more… energetic. I got butterflies in my belly.

Then a big man entered the bus, introduced himself with some badge to the driver, and began coming up the aisle. He was not about smiling at all, seemed serious, and as I saw him inspecting us kids sitting in each row, I realized, ‘Oh my God, he is checking us! He is acting as if we are the threat! He should be checking the ones down there, not us!’

Soon the man came climbed down out of the bus, and a woman climbed inside. She took the microphone and said:

“Hello kids, Shalom!”

I immediately noticed she spoke with an Arab accent. It wasn’t an imitation of an Arab accent, but a real Arab accent.

“We are all so excited to see you!” she said. “My name is Khadija, and the kids here are very excited and happy that you came. Please take your bags with you as you come down, as the bus will not stay with us.”

She then climbed down out of the bus.

I thought to myself, ‘The bus is leaving? Like, leaving-leaving?’

I must have not been the only one to think that, as no one was hurrying to get up and head towards the open front bus door.

Khadija saw this and climbed up again and took the microphone, “Hey guys, come down, please, we have a busy day, there are buns and chocolate milk for you, come down, come on, please!”

I think it must have been the chocolate milk that did it, as we slowly got up, took our bags, and began coming out of the bus. I was one of the last ones to climb down.

While the kids outside seemed all too excited about us when we were inside the bus, now as we were coming out, they stepped back, keeping a distance from us, as if we had some plague or something. As I walked towards the center’s door, I saw how these kids were inspecting me. It felt a little like I was an animal in a zoo. I didn’t mind that – better than them coming too close.

Inside and to the left there was a big hall, with two tables near the wall, on which there were piles of chocolate milk bags. As I grabbed myself one I saw in horror that it wasn’t Hebrew letters on the bag, but Arabic.

I heard Arabic spoken sometimes in Israel. In my father’s store I heard lots of Arabic spoken by Arabs who lived nearby. But written Arabic, well, I didn’t see much of it. On signs on roads there were Hebrew, English and Arabic, but I never saw before a whole bag printed in Arabic. I turned it around, looking for the Hebrew, but with no avail.

That’s when it hit me. I am not at home. I am definitely NOT at home.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. Don’t Share Your Crayons

August 1997

Age 11

A few minutes later Khadija and another man asked us all kids to sit down on the floor. I held my bag tight in my hand – I didn’t want it to be stolen. I looked around. We all sat in two big separate clusters.

The man began speaking, in Arabic.

Something within me stiffened, tightened. I thought all of a sudden of home, of my mom… How did she let me come here? What do I know of this man who’s speaking?

We were obviously outnumbered by the Arab kids. I should have not been so foolish as to come here so easily. I thought of my friends at home. No one would have dared coming here. These Israeli kids who came with me are not my friends. Actually, I don’t know them. This could all be a plot. They might be actually Arabs, and they might all want to kidnap me. What on earth did Amy think? What will my mom do if they kidnap me?

Finally the man finished speaking, and then Khadija began speaking in Hebrew, “This is Khaled and I am Khadija,” she said and continued, “Khaled said, and I will translate, that this weekend will focus on us doing art together.”

The Arab man Khaled, who I was still evaluating (I was not to be fooled so easily, my brother was a soldier and he taught me that Arabs are not to be trusted as you never know when they will pull out a knife and stab you in the back!) – this Khaled was talking and smiling what seemed to me like an alarming smile. What was he telling them? I was scared as all the Arab kids nodded. But then I got terrified as he was showing with his hands something that looked like, “…and then we will all push these Israelis against the wall and crush them!” I swear to God, he was pointing to the wall behind us and all the Arab kids nodded excitedly.

Should I get up and run towards the bus? Was the bus still there? I was determined that when they all get up I would run underneath everyone towards the exit door. Near the door I saw the security guard that climbed earlier on the bus. Was he on our side or theirs? My hand grabbed my bag, ready to launch.

“Our goal,” Khadija finally said, “is to work together. You might have not noticed, but the wall behind you,” she said and pointed at the wall, “is actually one big piece of white cardboard-paper, and we’ll all get to paint it together.”

I looked behind me, looking at the wide wall, and noticed that indeed it was covered by huge sheets of paper. Was that what Khaled was telling them?

Khaled grabbed a package of crayons from a box which sat underneath the table. He spoke and I saw how the Arab kids liked him. To me he seemed… scary, especially when he showed with his hands how they should lift their hand and not give away their crayon to anyone. The Arab kids around me laughed.

Why can’t Khadija speak first, I thought. But then she said, “There are many crayons, and gouache and other paints. But this is a group painting, we do this together. Therefore, when someone comes to you and asks you if they can use your blue crayon for a moment, don’t say
‘No, I will not give it to you, this is mine!’ Instead, give it, share with one another.”

As Khaled began speaking again, I looked around me at the Israeli Jewish kids. I saw that they seemed pretty relaxed. I thought, ‘It’s OK, Jon, relax… it’s OK!’

Khaled finished his words with the word “Yalla” which I knew, as we used it also in Hebrew slang, meaning, “Come on” or “Let’s go!”

The Arab kids clapped excitedly. Khadija translated, “We will not tell you what do draw, you are your own boss. This painting will be a salad of all of your creativity together. But, as Khaled said, we don’t want to speak too much, we came to paint, so, Yalla, let’s do it!”

We stood up. Kids grabbed crayon packages and gouache paints and brushes from a few boxes. I walked around the havoc and placed my bag underneath the table, hoping it would be a safe place. I noticed Khaled standing on the other side, looking at me placing my bag there, smiling. ‘Darn,’ I thought, ‘perhaps it’s not a good place for it, he just saw me hiding it…’

I decided I would move it later on, or… should I wear it on my back? But I saw that no one was wearing their bags, and I didn’t want to stand out more than I already did. Many bags were thrown by the entrance to the hall, or placed by the walls all around. I thought to myself that I am overthinking, and looked with envy at the kids who were already grabbing every spot on the wall, drawing away. In that instance I felt a nudge from within to grab some paint and join them. ‘Darn it!’ I thought, ‘This is what I came for!’ I looked at the security guard standing next the door, looking outside. I realized he was on our side. I went to one of the boxes, grabbed one of the few crayons left, and headed towards the large wall.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. “Each and Every One of Them – a Jew”

1995

Age 9

My parents were both born in Moldova, a part of the former Soviet Union, back in 1953. Their childhood and adolescence was filled with difficulties, which stemmed from their ethnicity. It was not easy to be born to a Jewish family in Europe in the last century. Especially when your country denounced any religion, called it “Opium for the masses”, and looked upon the Jewish minority with tremendous disfavor.

One day, after my mother and father began dating, they were walking out of a cinema with another couple friends of theirs. As they passed by, they saw a few local Russian guys sitting on a bench. One of those guys muttered loudly, “You see them? Each and every one of them – a Jew!”

“…And?” I asked my dad. I was trying to understand. This was a subject my parents rarely spoke about.

“‘And?’” my father repeated, and I could see that he was reminiscent with thoughts.

“And what did you think?” I asked.

“I thought,” he sighed, “that that was not nice. Not nice of him!”

“But… Dad,” I said, slowly, trying not to hurt him. I knew he doesn’t like to speak of these things. But my nine year old self was determined to hear more. “But Dad, you were Jewish, weren’t you?”

My dad smiled a smile filled with sadness and sighed, “Of course we were Jewish! But… it’s the way he said it. As if it was such a… shame… as if we were lower-class, a plague…!”

I looked at his eyes as he disappeared into thoughts. “And…” I said, “did you turn around and tell him off?”

A look of confusion crossed my dad’s face, as if thinking, ‘Son, you don’t understand.’ He remained quiet, and then stood up. “Well,” he said, “how would that have helped? And your mother was with me, I didn’t want to cause any problems, you see?”

“I see,” I said quietly.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Butterflies

August 1997

Age 11

By the second day of the art weekend the wall seemed more and more colorful. The first day I thought, ‘We could NEVER fill up this huge wall.’ But now we were about to.

It was soooo colorful… Really beautiful. It seemed as if it was FULL of details. In the last day and a half I noticed how it was mostly the girls who were drawing flowers. The boys were drawing airplanes, bicycles and stuff like that. Gouache colors filled in between, with bright and beautiful colors.

At one point I saw how a girl next to me was drawing a few butterflies, large ones.

“Can I fill them?” I asked her, thinking of doing some fun color variation with my favorite technique of gradient coloring, with one color slowly changing into another.

Shu?”

The girl said something in Arabic, and I thought, ‘Darn, she’s Arab!’

But she was looking at me, and then spoke out loud to the girl who stood next to her. Then they giggled and said things I didn’t understand.

I tried my limited English. “Do I can,” I said, “painting?” and I pointed at her white butterflies.

Shu? Shu?” the girls said and giggled. Now there were four of them.

‘Darn!’ I thought. I took my crayon and placed it on the butterfly. I then asked, “Yalla? Yalla?” hoping my message would be conveyed. I regretted even beginning this whole conversation. Why couldn’t I just draw my own butterflies, I could do better ones than hers.

But they now understood me, and said in unison, “Yalla! Yalla!” and giggled as if something was really funny.

I then began to fill the butterfly wings with red crayon, and to my alarm I noticed that they hadn’t moved and they were watching me. That was not fair! I tried to concentrate and switch to my yellow crayon, now filling in the insides of the wings. I then took my thumb and began smearing the two colors one into the other, as I heard a gasp behind me. Did I get into trouble somehow?

Hilu! Hilu!” the girl said and pointed to the butterfly.

What on earth is ‘Hilu’?! Forbidden?

Hilu, Hilu!” the girls repeated, and now two Arab boys joined them too, repeating what sounded to me like “Forbidden! Forbidden!”

Now I was sure that I had gotten into trouble and wondered if I could smoothly pull myself out of the small throng without them noticing. Then I noticed Khadija coming over. Will she reprimand me for interfering with this girl’s butterfly?

“They say,” she looks at me, “beautiful, beautiful!”

“Beautiful?” I ask, and look at the butterfly. So, that’s what Hilu means? I say, “Yes? Hilu?”

Hilu, Hilu!” the kids respond, and one of the boys hurries to take his own crayons and begins a sloppy gradient fill to another butterfly. As I look at his too rushed crayon-filling I notice that I am a little sweaty, and I excuse myself, hurrying to the bathroom. Quick.

Khadija looks at me and nods an approving look. I smile back, but all I want is to run and hide in the bathroom.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Bye-bye to Nablus

August 1997

Age 11

We are now back on the bus, all the Israeli kids. The two days are over, and the driver wanted to leave before sunset. I find it challenging to stay seated, I stand on my knees on the bus seats, looking through the window. Outside the bus the kids are screaming in English, “Bye-bye! Bye-bye!”

I wave back. We all do. There is a feeling of excitement in the air; I look at all the faces. Here’s the butterflies girl. Here’s the airplanes boy. Here’s the sunflowers girl. As my eyes meet some of the kids next to whom I painted, I see real smiles. I wave back.

The bus starts away, and we wave to them until they all disappear around the corner. Then I see few of them running around the corner and into the street. We all wave until they disappear.

Wow.

I’m happy to be going back home, safely, like I promised Mom. But I also think these two days passed by way too quickly. Boy, will I have stories to tell when the school year starts!

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. How do you say “friendship” in Arabic?

September 1997

Age 12

The school year begins. I’m in a new school. Up until this summer I lived where I was born, in our village, not far away from Jerusalem. However this summer my mom did what she always dreamt of, moving us to the big city, Tel Aviv. “I was born in a big city,” she always explained, “Kishinev in Moldova was a BIG city. I was not made for this small place,” she said of the village.

And so she moved us all. My dad treaded along, he didn’t want to move away, but my mom had the final say.

And so I now begin a new school. Luckily, the seventh grade means that it is a new school for everyone, not just for me. I do see, though, that some kids know one another from their previous, elementary school. I hear, in the first break, of how they share exciting things they did while being abroad. I was never abroad, but I have not less impressive things to share: “I went to an art-camp with Arab kids! Yes, really! In Nablus…! Oh, it was very safe, v-e-r-y safe: there were security guards and all. No, the kids were nice. We painted together a BIG painting. Bigger than this wall, HUGE! Yeah, super cool!”

As the weeks pass by, I slowly acclimate. I realize these city kids dress a little… better. Well, at least different. I make my mom buy new sandals for me. And I stop wearing socks with my sandals. It ain’t cool. I also stop wearing some of the faded-colored shirts I got from David, my older brother. But all in all, I become one of them all. I got accepted to this special art class, made of students interested in art and music. Two afternoons each week we get to do either art or music.

The kids are well educated. What is tough, though, is English class. In the village I was one of the best in English. Here I’m… one of the worst. I simply can’t understand what the teacher is saying. She speaks way too fast, but I see that the others understand her, and that sucks.

Then two people come into our class. Many people pass by the class to give announcements and stuff, youth movements, etc. The English teacher, however, does not seem happy, as the class is soon over. But the two people, a guy and a girl, have a slip from the principal that states that they are allowed to pass through each class.

“Hurry up then!” the teacher says.

Personally, I’m relieved, as soon it will be my turn to read out loud from the textbook, and after my previous time reading out loud (or shall I say stammering out loud?) I am not eager for the next opportunity to embarrass myself in front of all of these city kids.

The guy and the girl, both seem in their twenties, introduce themselves. They say that they are from a youth movement called Sadaka Reut. “Reut,” the girl says, “you all know, means in Hebrew ‘friendship’. Yet does anyone one know what the word ‘Sadaka’ means?”

Silence. No hand is raised.

“Sadaka,” she says, “also means friendship, but not in Hebrew, in Arabic.”

I hear a boy behind me snarling, “Who cares!”

The teacher looks at her watch.

“Sadaka Reut,” the guy says, “is a youth movement, which brings together Israeli kids, Jews and Arabs.”

I sit up in my chair. This is interesting!

“We do all kinds of activities together,” he continues, “sometimes we do camping, and weekend workshops…”

The girl adds, “And all kinds of discussions… We are going to leave these fliers here with your teacher, please feel free to take one and come to our first meeting. The nearest branch is in Jaffa, and they meet this Wednesday afternoon.”

The teacher thanks them as she prompts them to leave. I notice that unlike when the Scouts came, or when the Navigators visited, or any other youth movement which visited us before to announce the beginning of the activity year, this time there was not much commotion.

As I am saved by the bell just before my turn to read comes (Am I lucky or what?!) I take a brochure from the teacher’s desk.

I ask Naomi, who I like, whether she wants to come too.

“Oh, no, I’m in the Scouts… And we already began the year last week!”

When I ask a few others, I find that they are either in the Scouts, in The Working Youth, or in the Navigators. Being new in the city, I belong to none of these. I then ask my new friend Ron why won’t he do both Scouts and this Sadaka thing.

“It doesn’t sound fun at all,” he says. “Sounds like too much talking and boredom to me!”

“But they said they have camping and stuff,” I try.

“Yeah, but you should totally come to the Scouts, you would love it!”

But something within me is saying, “Go try this Sadaka thing.” I often thought of these kids waving goodbye to us in the bus in Nablus. And my art teacher Amy hasn’t heard of any other similar activity since then. Should I give this Sadaka thing a shot?

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. I Will Not Criticize My Country

1997

Age 12

I took the bus to Jaffa, and now I’m puzzled. The address is correct, it states so on the brochure: it’s the right street. Number 35.

Finally I see a small sign on a regular door, “Sadaka Reut – Arab Jewish Youth Partnership”.

I try to open the door, but it is closed. I try again. Then I notice the buzzer. As I buzz and wait, I think of the other youth movements, having big large banners spread from one side of the building to the other. This one had only this small sign on the door.

Then a teenager opens the door, “Come in!” he says. He’s older than me, probably three years older. Dark eyes, big forehead, like me. “I’m Adam,” he says.

“I’m Jonathan,” I say as I step inside. It is quiet.

Off to the right there is a small room, some five kids are sitting on the two couches. Silence. It feels like a graveyard.

“Feel at home,” Adam says, “We’ll begin in few minutes.”

I sit on the couch, look around me and try to read the other kids’ faces. I say, “Hi, I’m Jonathan.” Each person says his name, and then its silence again. From their names I could gather that four of the five are Jewish, with the fifth one being Arab. Unfortunately there are no girls.

We sit quietly.

Adam finally comes and takes a chair, turning it facing backwards, so that his arms are on the backrest. “So… what’s up?”

No one answers. I’m afraid this is going to be t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e.

“So…” he continues, “I’m Adam, I’m your youth counselor,” he says.

This Adam looks way too young to be a youth counselor. He looks no older than 15 years old. ‘What?’ I think to myself. ‘Do they have no people? No money? What’s the story here?’

“Do you all know about Sadaka Reut?” he asks. They nod “Yes.” I make a face of “Not really”.

“So, basically,” Adam says, “we are a youth movement. We have several branches. In Tira, in Kfar Qasem, in Haifa, and here in Jaffa.”

He speaks of the different branches, and says that the Jaffa branch is not fully active yet, but that in two weeks time we’ll have a weekend seminar, all the branches together, at a college at the north. He then talks of what we could do together: “Speak on current issues, be politically active, stuff like that!”

One of the kids says something about the municipality, which does not support these kinds of programs. Adam responds saying how difficult it is to get funding. Another kid responds that it is not the city’s fault, but the government’s. The other responds that it’s the army’s fault.

I become red.

Never in my life have I heard such statements. What’s worse is that they are spoken by kids like me, Jewish. Israeli.

I feel shocked, thinking ‘Do they not know anything? How can they speak this way? I’m willing to be friends with Arabs. OK. But I’m unwilling to dis on my own country. What’s worse is that the Arab is hearing it all! What will he think?

When I try to say something in favor of the government, I am being disregarded, and I see a look of pity in their eyes. As if I know nothing.

They know nothing!

Never in the village, never in my life, have I heard anyone speak this way. I wanted to say, ‘If you don’t like it here, in this country, then go away!’ But I said nothing.

Two hours later the meeting ends and I leave, upset. Unimpressed. I felt like they were so different than me. They spoke of activism, and of hatred for the government. I was alarmed that Jewish Israeli kids could be so critical and so… disrespectful of what we have here.

My parents taught me to respect and love Israel. It is our home, we don’t have any other. And yet here these kids said some things that I heard for the first time in my life: “The government is so racist”; “Eventually Israel will have to collapse with the all the injustice going on”; “Well what do you expect when the media is fed news by the army?”

Wow.

I didn’t belong there.

In my home politics was rarely spoken. When in the fifth grade we had some school activity in which they split us to groups to talk of the government’s power, I was alarmed by how much one of the kids knew.

I considered myself a smart kid. Good grades. But I knew nothing about the government, and all of the fancy words this kid was using, like “legislative power,” “the assembly”, and “opposition”.

Most kids learn about politics from their parents, from their voting preferences. My parents did not know much. All they knew was that they had a deep and profound admiration and appreciation for the country which enabled them to be Jewish without a need to hide their identity.

Back in the Soviet Union, from which my parents came, political activism was considered a dangerous thing. They might have brought some of this attitude with them to Israel. Anyhow, politics was never spoken in our house at the dinner table. My source to better understand how things worked when it came to the bigger world and to politics was school. But teachers were always so hyper-sensitive and extremely cautious of discussing anything that had to do with politics.

With my parents being pretty oblivious, and with teachers always being reticent and never sharing their own opinions, my main source for knowledge of how to interpret the TV news was my older brother, my hero. David.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. David

1997

Age 12

My brother David, seven years older than me, was like a God to me. He always knew which music to listen to, what to wear, or what to say. He always had girlfriends. And they were always nice to me
. I admired David and everything that had to do with him.

I watched from the window in our third story apartment, looking down at the street, waiting for David to come back. He hasn’t been home for some four weeks. We all missed him.

Then I saw him, with the green uniform and the huge duffle bag. “David’s here!” I screamed, and ran down to greet him.

A few minutes later he sat on the couch, in boxers only, “Man, it’s so good to be home!”

He already took off his uniform and gave Mom a big pile of laundry, “Sorry it smells so bad…”

Mom grinned, “Your laundry never smells bad!”

After she put all the army uniforms in the washing machine, my mom returned with some food for David. He was being treated like a king, and no wonder. He’s been fighting up north, across the border with Lebanon, against Hezbollah. On the news we constantly hear some of what’s going on in Lebanon. Mom is always worried.

When evening comes and after we all eat our Sabbath dinner, we all move to the couches. Somehow the issue of the Arabs comes up. Usually somehow the subject changes back into something more interesting, like a new band, a TV show, that relative who got married – anything but politics. This time, however, David is quick to say, “You know guys… I think at the end… there won’t be any other option of what to do with them.”

My parents are quiet. My older sister asks, “What do you mean?”

“Well, we’ll have to push all of these Arabs away. We don’t have any other option. Nothing will change.”

I say nothing. I don’t know anything about those things. But David is in the army. He has seen the danger up close. He has seen how dangerous Arabs can be.

When he speaks I feel discomfort. But… I know that he is also right. He’s my brother. He knows.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Why Not French?

October 1997

Age 12

English is the key to succeed in the world today. So we were told from a young age. We began learning English in the fourth grade. A lot of attention was given to it. I wasn’t very good at it, but I knew that it was important.

But now, at the seventh grade, we were to choose a third language. In Israel, between the seventh and tenth grade, students must learn a third language. If they wish to proceed with it, they can take the exams in this language during the 11th and 12th grades. In most schools, like in my art school, you can choose between French and Arabic.

“But Jonathan!” my friend Naomi reprimands me, “French is the language of true culture!”

“I know, I know,” I say sheepishly, “but Arabic seems to me more… important.”

“Important for you to speak with terrorists if they kidnap you!” Naomi shrieks.

“Well,” I smile, “that too… but seriously, it is really important!

“I don’t understand,” she says, “what a guy like you is looking for in a language of people, excuse me,” it seems like she is looking for the right word, “so… backwards…!”

We were both studying art together, as well as all the regular classes of math, English, science etc. And I liked Naomi, and Naomi liked me. “I think,” she said finally, “that you are making a mistake.”

I sighed. I will try to explain to her.

“You see, Nao, this summer, I went for this art weekend…”

“Yeah, yeah, you told me, with those Arab kids…”

“Yes,” I say, “and they were really… nice, and, you know, very much like you and me.”

Naomi’s face shows a disapproving, disbelieving and disinterested look on her face all at the same time. “And…?”

“And…” I continue, “many Arabs speak Hebrew, but not enough Jews speak Arabic, it seems to me… unfair.” Here. I said it.

“Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan…” Naomi says nodding her head ‘no’, “It’s not that I am against them. If you could choose a fourth language I would tell you, go for it! But you can’t. And it is only reasonable that as the third and last language that you can take in school, you would choose a language,” now a smile appears on her face, “of great writers, great artists, great culture!”

She pronounces the last word cul-toor. “Great cul-toor!”

“I know, Nao,” I say, “but I made up my mind, I’m sorry.”

From then on, whenever Third Language lesson comes in our schedule, and most of the class would stays in our same classroom for the French lesson, I leave with few others to another class where we learn Arabic.

With our Arabic teacher we learn, week by week, the letters in Arabic. Some letters flow into the other, you write them in a sort of cursive way. Then few letters do not flow to the following letter, you have to stop after them, leave a small space, and then continue with the rest of the word. Interesting.

Some words sound like Hebrew. Father, Ab, sounds similar to the Hebrew Aba. Mother, Um, sounds similar to the Hebrew Ima. House, Beit, sounds similar to the Hebrew Bayit. Whenever there are such similarities we are all thrilled, because we know it will help us remember and memorize that word. It’s easier when there are such similarities.

In the English class there aren’t as many similarities. We do have some common words, like telephone, television, fax, jeans, and stuff like that. But it seems like there are way more common words that both Arabic and Hebrew share.

After each Arabic lesson, when I come back to my original class, Naomi looks at me with a disapproving look. “So, what did you learn today?”

“Oh,” I say, “we continued with the letters and we learned how to say house, bus, and family.”

What?” Naomi looks shocked. “We have long-ago finished with the letters… And we learned today how to say restaurant, taxi, and opera.

“Nao, it’s not a competition,” I say and smile.

“Oh well,” she sighs, “if we ever go to Paris together, I will have to speak for you.”

I try to think fast of something to say in return, but she is faster than me: “And,” she grins, “if we ever get kidnapped you will speak for me!”

And before I have a chance to respond she walks away. Girls.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Joking for Peace?

October 1997

Age 12

The Sadaka kids are on the bus with me, kids from different branches of the youth movement. We are heading to a weekend seminar. I didn’t want to go, really, but Adam, that young counselor, called, and said I’ll “love it”. Let’s see.

As I look through the window I feel less anxious now than when I travelled during the summer to that place in Nablus. It is a similar experience, I’m on a bus with kids like me, Jewish Israeli, heading towards a gathering with Arab kids. All I know is that this program is not in a dangerous place like Nablus, but in an Israeli college. And that these Arab kids should speak Hebrew pretty well.

I still don’t understand the difference between Arabs from the Territories and Arabs from Israel. Too complicated for me. What I do understand, however, is that these Arabs I am about to meet are very much like the Arabs in Jaffa, a short bus ride from Tel Aviv. That they are like the Arabs from Lod, where my father has his camera shop. They speak Hebrew, they, unlike Arabs from the Territories, have Israeli citizenship. They speak Hebrew. That’s all I know.

Let’s see.

A few hours later we sit in a classroom. There are about 25 of us altogether. Our guide is Arabic-speaking. Most of the kids there are Arabs. But we speak mostly Hebrew. The guide splits us into groups and instructs us to create a possible agreement to end the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians: to talk about land, borders, and other issues. I know nothing about that. The three kids in my group, all Arab, aren’t too interested in this topic either. We prefer talking about pop bands instead. I am intrigued.

“You like ‘Barbie Girl’ too?” I ask in astonishment.

“Oh yes,” giggles the girl and begins singing in English, “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world…

The guide hushes us and instructs my group to focus on the task. But we smile to one another. I am the only Jewish kid in our group of four.

I ask them to explain to me the meanings of their names. We do it quietly, and something in the way that we all disobey the guide bonds us together. They each explain the meaning of their names. I then explain that my name, Jonathan, means that “God has given”, or “The gift of God.”

“That’s a pretty name,” the boy says.

The two girls nod. I smile. These guys are nice.

Later on, during the break, I see that one boy who was with me in our small group. His name is Atheer, I think.

“Atheer, right?” I ask as I take my bag off the bench, signaling for him to sit.

“Right. Jonathan?” he says and sits down.

“Yep,” I say, and take a big bite from my sandwich. “Remind me what your name means?”

“Atheer is a ‘light reflected from a sword,’” he says with a smile.

He seems pretty cool, so I decide to tease him. “You guys,” I say and shake my head in disapproval, “everything for you is sword and war, war, war!”

He smiles and say, “Look who’s talking, for you Jews it’s all ‘pour out your wrath upon the nations…’”

I recognize the quote from somewhere. Darn, where does he quote it from…?

“It’s in your Passover ritual,” he says all-knowingly, “do your homework before you blame us, bastard!”

He smiles. I like him.

I also like that he seems to have a cynical sense of humor, not being insulted by my comment, but rather throwing the ball back at me. I like it. In school I have developed a special liking to black humor. We love to make light of serious, disturbing issues. For example, though it is totally inappropriate, we have many Holocaust jokes. I ponder for a second, measuring him up with my eyes. Should I tell him one?

“So this Israeli group,” I begin, “these Israeli tourists are touring Germany with their local German tour guide…” I see that he leans forward, excited.

“Yeah?” he says, “Go on!”

“And then their bus breaks down. It’s the middle of the night, and the local tour guide goes knocking on the doors of the nearby village.”

I try my German accent. “‘Excuse me,’ he says to the man who opens the door, ‘I am stuck with a group of Jews and I need your help!’

“‘I’m so sorry,’ says the house owner, as he points inside, ‘we’ve thrown out the oven, we only have a microwave…’”

Atheer takes a quick moment, and then cracks up, “Ohhh….! This is bad,” he giggles, “Oh, this is b-a-d!”

“Wait,” I chuckle, looking to see that no one hears us, “I have another one!”

“C’mon! Give it to me!” he says, his eyes shining.

“So Hitler visits a concentration camp, and sees this child,” I pause and make a German accent, “‘Young boy! Tell me: how old are you?’”

“‘I’m still six,’ says the child ‘but next month I turn seven!’”

“Hitler responds, ‘Oh… Optimistic, eh?’”

Atheer seems puzzled, “Optimistic…?” and then he cracks up, “Oh this one was worse!”

I can see that he sizes me with his eyes as he says with a smile, “It is so wrong that you tell these jokes! You’re crazy!”

“Do you have any?” I ask.

“Well, I’m not sure if you’d like them…”

“Go ahead!” I say. Nothing like a good joke.

Atheer looks around and then whispers, “Why don’t we Arabs have AIDS?

“Why?” I ask.

“Because AIDS is a 20th century sickness,” Atheer continues, “but we still live in the 19th century!”

“Oh, that’s funny!” I say. I like the fact they have self-deprecating jokes. “Do you have more?”

“Well,” Atheer says, “I have some jokes against you Zionists…”

“Tell me!” I say.

“Well…” he takes a moment and smiles, “I don’t think they are that good anyway.”

I am both disappointed and relieved.

Right then the break ends and we both head back to the class. We grab a sit one next to the other. Atheer. My first Arab friend.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Hallelujah

September 2014

Age 28

I am sitting down with the two women I recruited for the task at hand. I am 28, and they both could have been my mothers. Miriam is a dance teacher, originally from New York. She immigrated to Israel few years ago. She now teaches dance classes to religious women. She and her husband bought a painting of mine at the Jerusalem gallery, and we became sort of friends since then.

On the other side of the table sits Carmen, who I met in Israeli Folk Dance. She has become a true supporter, not only of my art, but generally very supportive of all of my endeavors.

I told both Miriam and Carmen over the phone about this meeting I am trying to create, for Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. Carmen was excited. Miriam was a little more apprehensive.

“So,” Miriam says, “tell us about this lady.”

This ‘lady’ we are waiting for is my friend Riman. We met through a mutual friend. We soon realized that we both knew many of the same people from the peace circles. We spoke and gossiped about the peace scene, and then I said that I’d love to do something together. She said she’d love to as well. We exchanged phone numbers. And now, with this meeting I’m trying to organize, I invited her to come to brainstorm with me. She was excited. “I’ll be there!” she said.

Miriam, Carmen and I are sitting in the beautiful outdoor café at the Jerusalem YMCA on King David street. We look onto the garden and the street. The twelve cypress trees in the garden move gently in the wind. I once heard a tour guide explaining to a group of Muslim tourists how they represent the Twelve Imams who succeeded Prophet Muhammad. A few weeks later, passing by, I heard another tour guide with a Christian pilgrims group saying these twelve cypresses represent the twelve apostles. And, of course, many Jews see them as representing the twelve tribes. Here is Jerusalem to you in a nutshell.

Miriam looks at me eagerly. I say, “Her name is Riman, she is quite… she is big on organizing and making things happen.

She’s very impressive,” I add.

I can see that Miriam is a little nervous. “She is… a Palestinian?” she asks.

“From East Jerusalem,” I say, “she would call herself a Palestinian, yes.”

“And you trust her, yes?” Miriam asks.

“Oh, I do,” I say. Riman is a true angel. And she was willing to come and meet us and possibly help arrange and bring to life this vision of mine, happily volunteering her time.

I see that Miriam looks around her, examining the garden and the building’s exterior, with its iconic tower way above us. “It’s… nice here,” she says.

“Isn’t it?” I say. “You come from New York, right Miriam?”

Miriam nods and I say, “Did you know it was the same architect of the Empire State Building that designed this YMCA?”

“What? Wow…” she looks up. I look at the time on my phone, hoping that Riman will come at any moment.

“I guess,” Miriam says sheepishly and looks at Carmen and me, “I guess I never wanted to come and really sit here, you know? It is a…” and she lowers her voice, “Christian place after all.”

“I know what you’re saying,” I quickly say. I do. We in Israel are afraid of missionary work. It is quite a sensitive topic. Many observant Jews will not enter a church in fear of being forced to hear of Jesus or of the gospels, or being expected to take one of the free booklets the church would offer. I myself had to overcome this fear, and to an extent I still work on fully overcoming it. It’s just that – with centuries of Christian persecution, with the Spanish Inquisition, blood libels and all – we don’t like to be told that our faith is wrong and that we need to hear “The truth.” It is tiresome, disconcerting, and for many – frightening.

Carmen looks interested, and says to Miriam, “I just say ‘No’ to anything that does not feel right to me, you know?”

“Yes, but…” Miriam says, and her eyes get slightly bigger, “you never know.”

“But,” I say, “the reason I chose for us to meet here is that it is actually not really Christian here. I would say it’s more inter-religious,” I say.

“How so?” Miriam says.

“Well, the head of this place is actually an Arab, I mean, a Muslim.”

“Really?” Miriam asks and raises her eyebrows.

“Yep,” I say, “and the man who is in charge of the programming and all is Jewish.”

Miriam seems surprised. “I didn’t know that!”

“Me neither,” Carmen says.

“It really is…” I say, as I notice Riman walking quickly towards us through the garden, “it really is a very open environment. And as far as I know there is no missionary stuff here, I have this Jewish friend running this peace youth chorus here, and he says that there is none of that here…” I then stand up to greet Riman, “Riman!” I exclaim and hug her.

“Jonathan!” she says and hugs me. It’s surreal, but real: Jewish man hugging a Muslim woman, in the Young Men’s Christian Association.

Oh, Jerusalem…

We then sit down, as I introduce Riman to Miriam and to Carmen.

We talk about the weather (fall is here finally!), about Riman’s ride here (there was traffic coming from the Old City), and we order (I’ll have just mint tea please – Me too!).

Then they all look at me.

“So,” I begin, “in a moment I’d like for each of us to introduce themselves. But first, I must say, I am excited. Ever since I met you, Riman,” I look at Riman, “I wanted to do something together for peace. Jerusalem needs it.”

“Amen!” says Miriam. I can see she is still apprehensive, but at least now Riman is here and the name has a face.

“I contacted all of you,” I continue, “because you are all friends of mine, and because I believe that together we could create something. I have been active in quite a few peace groups and organizations over the years, but there is something that I see missing.” I add some honey to my tea that just arrived. “You see, most peace activists are very… secular in nature. They see religion as something that is impeding peace. Over the last few years I became more and more…” I choose the word carefully, “spiritual. And I believe that spirit, and the belief in something greater than us, can actually serve peace.”

I gauge to see that they are with me. They are. “I am thinking of us organizing a gathering, in which we highlight the similarities between the religions, and see our unique faiths as a part of a beautiful… tapestry. We should enjoy our differences, and celebrate our different faiths,” I say, “but in a way that respects prayer and the place of God.”

“Sounds good!” Miriam says.

“Very needed here,” Riman says.

Carmen nods.

And so we go on to speak about the vision for what I call “Hallelujah”, an interfaith dialogue meeting. My heart is pounding as I describe to them what I envision…

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. It Is Your Dream, Jon

September 2014

Age 28

“How’d the meeting go?” Hallel asks me when I come back home.

“It was… good!”

Hallel and I moved in together some half a year ago, after dating for a year. She’s been crucial in encouraging me to make it happen.

She hugs me. It’s so good to be in her embrace. I take my shoes off and place them outside the door. Our small Jerusalem apartment is so tiny, that if I leave my shoes inside it will soon prove disastrous…

Hallel sits down on the couch and says, “Tell me…!”

“It went well,” I say and sigh, “actually, really well. Miriam and Carmen were great, and this Riman girl is pretty impressive.”

“Remind me, she’s a Palestinian?”

“Yes, she was born in East Jerusalem, near the wall of the Old City. Her parents, though Muslims, sent her to a Christian school.”

“Why?” Hallel asks.

I’m happy to see her interest. “She said,” I explain, “that it was a higher quality education. Anyway, she studied at the American University in Egypt, and also in a University in the States called Marquette. She said she was a Fulbright Scholar, I’m not sure what that is, but Miriam was impressed.”

At the time it was the first time I heard of the Fulbright Program, which gives merit-based grants for international educational exchange for outstanding students.

“Good,” Hallel says, “and was she into your idea?”

“I think so. For now we only introduced ourselves to each other. But I think we are all now on the same page. We’ll organize an event with people of all faiths. We’ve divided responsibilities and all,” I said excitedly, “I will speak to the YMCA management to get a large conference room, hopefully without charge. Miriam will write the text for the brochure, Riman will translate it into Arabic, Carmen will design the brochure and the poster, and I guess Riman and I will co-host…”

“Wow, sweetie, it sounds good! Really good!”

“It does, right?” I say and fall into Hallel’s lap. I’m exhausted.

“Honey, it is so good…” Hallel says and strokes my head. “You were really stressed to make even today’s meeting happen. And you didn’t know how you would all get along…”

“We got along really well!” I say.

“It’s your dream to do this kind of stuff…” Hallel says and looks at me intently.

“It is, Hallel, it is!”

Could we really make it happen? In Jerusalem?

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Splendid!

Summer 1999

Age 14

“Oh my God! This is so splendid!”

Atheer is screaming with joy.

Atheer and I have been friends forever. That is, in the past two years or so, ever since I first joined the Sadaka-Reut Youth Movement. Now we are both nearly 14 years old, and Atheer came to visit me in Tel Aviv.

I look at him as another huge wave is about to swamp us. The sea is extremely rowdy today.

“Let’s get closer to the beach!” I say. The last thing I need is for him to get carried away with the undercurrent.

“OK,” he says, and screams again, “This is a dream! Dreamlike! Splendid!”

His Hebrew is so… funny. He studies Hebrew at school, of course, and he speaks it really well. It’s just that it is so… different than my Hebrew, or the Hebrew I am used to hearing around me. His is really… literary. It feels to me awkward, dusty, archaic.

Only when we sit on the beach and eat ice-cream do I realize that this freaking guy – this crazy guy – doesn’t even know how to swim.

But, Atheer!” I yell at him. “You are crazy! You should have told me!!!”

“Man, I can get myself out of the water if I need,” he tells me reassuringly.

“No, man!” I shout, “You simply don’t take these kinds of chances!” I try to explain to him. “How come you don’t know how to swim? Not that I’m a great swimmer, but still…”

“Man,” Atheer says, “this is probably… only the fourth time I’ve been to the sea!”

“What the heck?” I ask, “How come?”

“Don’t know…”

“But,” I ask slowly, “it’s not like you need a permit to come to Tel Aviv, right?” By then I already began understanding a little bit about the difference between two groups of Arabs: the first remained in what became Israel in 1948 – those are what we call Israeli Arabs, or Arabs with Israeli citizenship, amounting to about one million people, and representing nearly a fifth of the Israeli population. The second group of Arabs were Arabs who in 1948 ended in the areas who became Jordan and Egypt. Then, in 1967, these areas were won by Israel. These, I learned, were “Palestinians” living now in the “Territories.” I still did not understand much, except for the fact that they needed permits to enter the pre-1967 Israel. It didn’t all make sense to me, and the years and details were still mixing in my mind.

“Stupid!” Atheer says, and seems insulted, “I’m just like you, do you need permits to visit me in Tira?”

“No…?” I say, a little unsure.

“Man,” Atheer exclaims, “you Jews don’t know nothing! We are Arab Israeli, I-s-r-a-e-l-i, just like you! I can go up north to the Sea of Galilee, down south to the Red Sea, come here to the Mediterranean coast – I don’t need any permits. In two years when we turn 16 I will get my blue ID and you too will get your blue ID. That’s it, the same!”

“OK, OK!” I say. I knew that sometimes if we get into political conversations we can get into a mess. Besides, I didn’t understand anything in politics, and didn’t want to understand either.

“How’s your ice cream?” I ask. He took the chocolate one, I took the vanilla.

“Good. Here,” he says and gives me a bite. He takes a bite from mine.

“Mine is better!” he exclaims.

“You have no taste, man,” I conclude.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Hallelujah

November 7th 2014

Age 29

“So,” I say, “I’d like each and every one of us to wear a name tag, it’s really important, with clear handwriting…!” I am very nervous, and I try to act really cool. Yet I don’t think it’s working too well.

Riman is seated next to me. Miriam and Carmen sit next to her. Next to them is another friend I recruited for the task, Max.

I look at the name tags. We agreed that each name tag should have the three languages on it, Arabic, Hebrew, English.

Riman spells out Carmen on Carmen’s name tag.

“Oh,” Carmen says, “it’s beautiful! This last letter looks like a crescent, like the symbol of Islam, with a star at the top.”

Riman looks at it puzzled, “Wow, I never thought about it!”

“What is she talking about,” I inquire.

“The letter N at the end,” Riman shows me:

ن

“Wow,” I say, “I never thought of it.”

Riman says, “Me neither!”

Miriam smiles.

Riman looks at me, “Here, Jonathan, let me write your name on your tag,”

“No, I’m good,” I say. I take the black pen and proudly write in Arabic “J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N”

“Wow!” Riman says, impressed, “beautiful!”

“Thank you dear!” I say, as I notice Karym coming through the door with a cardboard box. “Karym!” I exclaim.

I met Karym a few weeks ago at an inauguration of an international peace school which I had a minor part in helping establish. Called Eastern Mediterranean International School, it was founded by an older friend of mine. I donated a large oil painting of mine for the cause, which helped fundraise the tuition of three students for their summer program. I was therefore invited, with Hallel, to the opening dinner.

In our table there sat a nice Arab guy, in his twenties, and said that he promotes peace through… Frisbee. He called it “Ultimate Peace”, said they had a website, ultimatepeace.org, and that they were growing rapidly. I was impressed and happy to find yet another partner for peace, especially using sports. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

When I called him a week later to talk to him about the Hallelujah dialogue project I was organizing at the Jerusalem YMCA, he was eager to help. “Listen what,” he said, “not only will I be glad to come,” he said, “but I’ll also bring with me another cool guy called Hossa, and we’ll be happy to facilitate an Ultimate Frisbee session there together.”

I thought it was great. We all planned that after a session in the main hall, we will split into smaller groups, such as a discussion group, a workshop, and a game outside. Frisbee indeed sounded like a cool activity to offer. I just hoped it wouldn’t rain.

Now, as Karym entered the YMCA carrying a box with him, I hurried up to help him.

“No, Jonathan, thank you,” Karym said, “you see, it’s very light, it’s only Frisbees!”

I saw a younger guy walking behind him. “And you,” I said and extended my hand, “must be Hossa, I’m Jonathan.”

“Nice to meet you, Jonathan,” Hossa said with a sheepish smile.

I look at Miriam and wink. Miriam was worried, she told me earlier, that this would be a peace gathering with Jews only, except for Riman.

“But,” I said to Miriam an hour earlier, as we spoke quietly in the corridor leading to the main YMCA hall, “but we advertised it in Arabic as well.”

“Yeah,” Miriam said, “but I heard from a friend who is more into this kind of stuff,” she said and pointed at our Hallelujah poster, “that the problem in these events is that it’s a bunch of left-wing Jews coming together to talk peace with no Arabs showing up. You can’t make peace this way…”

“Well,” I said nervously, “I do hope some will come. This is why we did the translation and all…”

Now, as Karym and Hossa just came, I winked at Miriam, and she gave me a wink and a big grin back. As odd and incorrect as it may sound, we are happier for each Arab person coming than for each Jewish one.

“Let me run and see how Micah and the choir are doing,” I said, “Riman, could you please make a name tag for Karym and Hossa?”

“On its way!” Riman said cheerfully as she took the cap off of the thick black pen.

I hurry through the YMCA corridors, and as I get near their rehearsal room I hear the beautiful voices of the joint Arab and Jewish choir. I sigh. How lucky I am to have met Micah so serendipitously!

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Micah

Summer 2013

Age 27

I met Micah one sunny day in Jaffa when a common friend, Max, introduced us to each other.

I was running from place to place, and could barely stay for a moment as I had a graffiti tour to guide. “Can the three of us,” I suggested, “all have ice-cream together after my tour ends?”

“Sweet!” Max said. The red-head guy who introduced himself as Micah said, “I love ice-cream!”

And so after the tour ended I sat with Max and his friend Micah at the Anita Ice Cream Parlor in Jaffa. They both knew each other from Yale. Max was the kind of guy I was proud to call my friend. He was an artist, a super friendly guy, and though he was Jewish American, he studied Arabic in University, and then went on to visit and volunteer in many Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and even Lebanon. We met through a common friend, and found that we had very similar interests.

As we licked away our ice cream, Max spoke of Micah living in Jerusalem. As I was also living in Jerusalem at the time, Max suggested we get together. “Cool,” I said, and then asked, “what brought you to Jerusalem, Micah?”

“Well, what brought me to Jerusalem…” Micah said, puzzled, and took a big breath. “I’m a singer, and directed choirs for a while now. I studied Music as well as community song leading. And as a child I participated in the Seeds of Peace program…?” he said and looked at me with a questioning look.

I knew Seeds of Peace, an organization that brings together each summer tons of Israeli and Palestinian youth, for a fun camp, in which they learn to get to know one another. Many peace activists are practically “created” there.

“Oh, I love Seeds of Peace,” I said. “I have many friends who have gone through their summer programs in Maine.”

“Cool,” Micah said, and seemed relieved that he didn’t have to explain what exactly is Seeds of Peace. “So…” he continued, “I try to mix between the two worlds, bring collective music-making to create a community. For few years now I have been dreaming of creating this youth choir that will have Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Muslims and Christians. And I thought, which better place to do this than Jerusalem.”

“No better place!” I said. I already liked this guy.

“So,” Micah continued, “after I’ve been speaking about it with anyone who would listen, people mentioned the YMCA as a good place to do it in. So I contacted them, and… voilà! Here I am!”

“Wow,” I said, “so, are you already up and running?”

Max intervened, “More than up and running! They are winning considerable amount of attention, media and all, and have a tour scheduled in Japan this summer.”

“Freaking cool!” I said.

Micah blushed, “We are very fortunate”.

I had tons of questions. “How many are there in the choir?”

“There are 26 singers, 13 Jewish, 13 Arabs.”

“Wow,” I thought. This guy is serious! “And… how do you overcome the language barrier? Like, do they all understand English?”

“Oh, no…” Micah said, “Well, some of them do, mostly the Israelis, but among the Palestinians, not so much, at least not enough to comprehend the subtleties… So I speak in English and then I speak in Arabic.”

My eyes widened, “Your Arabic is that good?” I asked with envy.

“Oh no,” Micah hurried to say, “but let’s say it’s good enough.

Max jumped in, “His Arabic is better than mine!”

“No it’s not,” Micah said and they began arguing.

“Wait, wait,” I said, eager to find out more. “Can I come see you guys perform?”

“Sure!” Micah said and seemed pleased with my interest, “We perform next week, but you can come and join one of our rehearsals, we rehearse twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays afternoon at the YMCA.”

“Cool!” I said. I was intrigued.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Get Ready, Micah!

November 7th 2014

Age 29

Now, over a year later, I am looking through the small window in the door of the YMCA rehearsal room. I grab Micah’s attention through the window. He notices me and then looks at the clock on the wall. He motions to me – ‘Thumbs up!’

A few of the teenagers look at me through the small window with curiosity. I give Micah a thumbs up.

I hurry back to the reception area of the YMCA, and am pleased to see a few ladies coming in with the Hallelujah fliers that Carmen designed. It is happening!

The minutes pass quickly. People enter the main hall and take a seat. We wait for more people to come. We were hoping for more people. I see only some twenty, twenty-five people in the room. I look at Riman and I say, “I think we should begin.”

Riman looks at me, then at the room, and then back at me. “Shouldn’t we wait a few more minutes? Don’t you think more will come?”

“Remember,” I say, “we thought of canceling due to all the events… people are scared to come.”

It has not been a good summer for Jerusalem, and it seemed more violent than ever before. Three Jewish boys were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian militants. Then a 16 year old Palestinian boy was burned to death by three Jews, in what was dubbed as retaliation. Some Arabs found it dangerous to walk near Jewish neighborhoods, and vice versa. People were hoping that things would mellow out after the summer, but they didn’t. Outraged Palestinians began driving into Jewish people in bus stations with their vehicles. Two weeks ago, on October 22nd, a Palestinian drove into a bus station and killed a baby girl and an 18 year old girl, with many others wounded. A week ago a Jewish right wing activist was shot by a Palestinian. Just two days ago another Palestinian in a van ran over a few Jewish people at two different locations, two were killed, some eight wounded. Meanwhile, the army was not mild in its reactions, and only yesterday tensions escalated as the Israeli government decided to close access of Palestinians into the Temple Mount, a move that the Palestinian President called a “Declaration of war.”

In the midst of all of that we were trying to hold our “peace gathering.”

“You’re right,” Riman said.

“Yeah, right?” I said, “I don’t want to lose the ones that came.”

A moment ago I came back from doing the third run throughout the YMCA lobby, asking strangers, “Did you come for the Hallelujah peace gathering?” On the way I managed to convince a couple of German tourists, and an older American lady to join us “Just for a few minutes.” But now even the tourists were eager to see what this gathering is about, as otherwise they’d continue with their day.

Riman nods to me, and I nod at Miriam and Carmen and Max. Karym and Hossa sit in the audience. I signal to Micah, who is standing outside, that we are beginning. Riman and I step forward.

“Hello everyone, I’m Jonathan,” I say.

“And I’m Riman.”

“And welcome to the Hallelujah Interfaith Gathering!”

The audience claps. Small group indeed – but seemingly dedicated nonetheless.

I look around the room. “In a few minutes we’ll introduce ourselves, talk about what we are about, what is our intention and goals. But first, we invited the Jerusalem Youth Chorus to start us off. The chorus is one of the most beautiful projects today in Jerusalem, and it is taking place here, at the YMCA. The Chorus is comprised equally of Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews. We have invited them to join us, and they graciously agreed to bless us with their presence. Please, let us give a warm welcome to Micah Hendler, the conductor and founder, along with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus!”

We all applaud as Micah and the teenagers enter the room. Without any words they arrange themselves quietly in half a circle, Micah in front of them, with his back to us. And they begin.

I have heard them singing before, several times. But this time, now, is special for me. I look at their young faces, bright, cheerful. They are all around 15 to 18 years old. They are our future. And they sing together in unison.

I look around me, the audience loves them.

After the first song Micah says that they are honored to be here, and that they are here to support any non-violent cooperation between the people of the Middle East.

They then sing a second song. A beautiful mixture of Hebrew and Arabic themes, carefully interwoven, complementing one another.

The audience applauds them.

“This,” Micah says, “will be our last song, from our hearts to yours. It’s a Sufi chant. The words in Arabic mean, ‘I believe in a religion of love, wherever it is found. For love is my religion and my faith.’”

This song began quietly, softly, and then grew into a mesmerizing, powerful crescendo.

As they sang the last note, we were all on our feet, applauding these brave young teens coming together to sing for us from across the two sides of the conflict. This has not been an easy summer for them, I knew. A few of them knew the three Jewish teens who were kidnapped and murdered, as well as the Arab teen who was burned to death. My heart went out for them, as they exited the stage to our applause.

It’s time for my speech. I have worked on this speech for months now. The audience seems ready, eager. I breathe in. I close my eyes, and think of the kid I used to be. Little Jonathan. Waiting for the bus. It’s for this little Jonathan that I made this whole gathering happen.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Waiting for the Bus

August 1995

Age 9

I am almost ten years old. Nine and eleven months, to be exact. I stand at the bus stop in our village, waiting for the bus. I am headed to Lod, to help my father in his camera shop.

It is the end of summer.

And…

I am afraid.

The first time I saw a bus exploding on the news was… horrific. They showed dead people. People were running and screaming. They showed policemen crying. Real policemen. Crying.

Religious old men were cleaning the blood, saying, “Here’s some skin, here is some body parts.”

It was in Tel Aviv.

I have been to Tel Aviv before.

I have been to Tel Aviv since. I passed with David by where the bus bombing took place. Many bouquets of flowers laid there near a tree, near a sign with the names of the 22 people killed.

I stood up, looking into the horizon.

The bus should be here any moment.

Not long ago a bus exploded in a suburb of Tel Aviv, right near where my cousins live.

I look at the road. I once missed the bus because I didn’t jump up and wave for the driver to stop. The buses drive fast on this road, which connects between the villages. If they don’t see anyone at the bus stop they just continue. So I stand up, I don’t want to miss the bus. Or… should I miss it?

A few days ago another bus exploded, this time in Jerusalem. It was near a school. They said on the news that it was a woman, an Arab woman, who did it.

I look at the road.

What will be of me, if I die?

How will I know if this bus won’t explode?

And if I die, who will remember me?

I look at the cement walls of the bus station. On the grey wall I see writings, some etched into the wall, some written with pens:

“Daniel was here – 1992”

“Shirley was here and waited for the damn bus for E-V-E-R – 1993”

“Ben and Aaron were here – 21 Aug. 1986”

I look at that last one. It’s an old one. It’s been here many years…

I look at the road.

Should I also write my name?

“Jonathan was here – 1995”?

That way, I think, they will NOT forget me. That way they will remember that I was. That I lived. That I was here!

That I was a good boy!

That I wanted to live longer!

That I didn’t want to die.

I look in my backpack. I don’t have a pen, or anything to etch the cement wall with. All I have with me is a book, a bottle of water, an apple, and some money.

Then I see the bus appearing in the horizon. I wished it wouldn’t come.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. My Hallelujah Speech

November 7th, 2014

Age 29

“My name is Jonathan Kis-Lev,” I begin.

Everyone’s eyes are looking at me. I see Riman smiling. Miriam and Carmen too.

“I was born in a small village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” I continue, “to Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Israel in 1974.

“From a young age I learned that this was the land of the Jewish people, who have endured much suffering over the ages, and that this was our land. And that we deserved to be here.

“I really did not know who Arabs were… I was five years old when I first heard sirens and began to understand what ‘war’ was. Each time we heard the sirens we had to run into a small room, in which my father taped with a masking-tape the windows and door. It was then that I began to understand who ‘Arabs’ were, especially this Saddam Hussein, which was this really scary name uttered by everyone around me with hatred. Who was this man? Why did he hate me so much? … I didn’t understand.

“That was the first time I really felt fear.”

I paused, thinking the word should receive its proper weight. “The reason I emphasize the word ‘fear’ is because the more I meet Palestinians and Israelis, the more I realize that we are operating out of fear, out of this hurting, painful, traumatizing experience, called ‘fear.’”

I took a breath and thought, good, they are with me.

“My life, I believe, could have gone in a very common way – being afraid of Arabs, growing to hate Arabs, ever-feeding this endless cycle of fear, leading to hatred, hatred leading to violence. But one event, one small event changed me and the way I came to see Arabs.”

I then went on to tell how my experience at the weekend art camp in Nablus really changed the way I saw Arabs.

As I told of my experience at that weekend, I could see that people could relate to the story about little Jonathan, so intimidated of the Arab kids there, but then learning they were really… the same, like him.

“Though they and I did not speak the same language,” I said, “we… kinda bonded.

“I then came back home. Now that I was more intrigued by Arabs, and not as afraid of them as before, I began taking part in this youth group, which is why I was so touched by the Jerusalem Youth Chorus…”

I saw many of the people nodding their heads in consent. The sight of seeing young Jews, Muslim and Christian singing together definitely struck a chord in people.

“One thing led to another,” I continued. “A few years ago I moved to Jerusalem and was really interested in doing peace activities so that I could feel that I am doing something to better the situation here. One day in the future I want to have kids and I want to have them grow up here, in this region of the world. I believe it is my responsibility to improve the situation that I was born into, so that my children’s reality will be different than mine.”

I saw Riman’s face, nodding at me.

I then went on to describe how we began developing this idea called The Hallelujah Dialogue Project. “We were surprised and delighted to hear of the many volunteers interested in facilitating sessions. After Riman will introduce herself and tell her story, we will break into two smaller groups. You can choose between learning how sports can promote peace, through what is called Ultimate Frisbee, with Karym and Hossa,” I said as I pointed at them. “Or you can go to a session led by Max,” I said as I pointed at Max, “learning of Palestinian culture through poems by Palestinian poets.”

I then shared how we thought, over the past few days, of postponing the meeting due to the killings and tension. And yet how we said that we should do it not despite the event, but precisely because of them.

“I think that one of the reasons that we don’t have many people here today is,” I said sorrowfully, “that people are simply afraid, they don’t want to go out of their homes – they say, this is not the right time, talk to me when it is more peaceful, then I will come.”

I smiled. “Yet what we think here is that it is never the right time. Never. We need to make it the right time.”

I saw some people agreeing. The tourists I brought from the lobby seemed encouraged by my words. My team members smiled. “And,” I added, “if there is any place in the world that needs this kind of dialogue activity taking place, celebrating both our commonalities and our differences, it is Jerusalem.”

I continued with passion, “It is not a matter of whether there’ll be peace, but rather of when will peace prevail. It’s not ‘if’, it’s a question of when. We’re here to make this process go just a little faster, because we are ready. We are ready for peace to prevail here.”

My twenty minutes were almost up. “I want you to acknowledge the fact that you all,” I said and looked intently at the all the people in the audience, “you all are brave to be here. You are also,” I added, making a funny face, “kind of odd if you chose to come here today!”

Laughter erupted as I looked intently at the audience. “No, seriously,” I continued, speaking to the less than 30 people in the room as if they were thousands, “you are awkward, coming to a peace activity at these days – it isn’t fashionable! Nor is it fathomable by most people.”

I looked at a journalist who was taking notes, at Hossa and Karym, at Miriam, at Carmen, “I think that what we are doing now is watering – watering the seed of peace. The seed was already planted many years ago – many people have worked and sacrificed their lives for making peace happen – but what we are doing now is watering the seed, making this tree of peace grow.”

I raised my voice, bringing my speech to an end. “And it will grow. We will make it happen!”

With that, I walked to my seat.

People applauded. I felt proud, I felt good.

Now it was Riman’s turn to address the small forum, and I was eager to hear what she had to say.

We both came a long way from what we’ve been taught as children.

My mind went back to age ten. Of that long evening, driving back home with my mother.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Lesson from My Mother

Fall 1995

Age 10

My mom is driving. We are headed from Lod back to our village, only her and
I. It is late, and I’m tired. So is she.

We are driving back from my dad’s camera shop. It is not the first time we would help my father in the afternoon at his shop at the mall. This evening, however, was some holiday for the Arabs, and therefore many came to be photographed. My dad doesn’t only sell cameras and develop film, but also takes photos. He’s really good at it, people like his photos. Especially because of his instructions:

“Smile, loosen up! Chin down, one shoulder forward, Yes! Yes! Big smile, yes! Good!”

The store is filled with people. Each time my father finishes with a client or a family, taking some three or four photos, he opens the thin curtain, and then they join the crowded front area of the shop. Then the next ones walk onto the photo shooting area, and my father closes the curtain behind him.

My mom and I are at the cash register. At one point my father puts his camera down to help us at the cash register with something, as the roll of paper got jammed and won’t come out.

Then he goes back to the photo shoot area. “Where is the camera?” I hear him say.

He looks around, then comes back to the cashier, looking constantly around him. My mom and I also look around.

It is nowhere to be found.

My dad lifts and moves the tripods of the light reflection umbrellas, looks behind the fabric draping. He opens the box with all the props, the plastic flowers, the hats…

People are becoming impatient. “Yalla!” someone says, “When is our turn, all we want is one photo, that’s all!”

I can feel tension in the air. My dad exits the shop. Through the glass I can see him looking right and left helplessly.

He comes back and keeps looking. My mom clenches her teeth, her lips become tight.

An older Arab woman tells my mother, “We’re next in line!”

Another person says, “Yalla, we’re not going to wait all night!”

I see my dad going to the tiny storage room at the back of the store. He sighs and rubs his forehead. He grabs a new packet of film, puts it into a camera and adjusts the focus while coming back to the front of the shop.

My mom jumps with joy, “You found it!”

“No,” my father says dryly, and I notice that he avoids looking at her, “I’m using the older camera for now.” He then looks at the people, “Who’s next?”

As the evening passes, it is long past my bedtime. My mom tells my father it’s time to close and go home. But I see that there are still many people inside and outside the shop.

“You go,” he says, “I will stay a little longer.”

Now we are driving on the dark road from the city of Lod to our village. My mom looks sternly at the road.

I try to say something. “There were many people tonight, lots of work!”

She keeps quiet.

I want to say something but I don’t know what.

Then, after a long minute, she speaks. “I don’t know why he likes working with these people.”

“These people?” I ask.

“These Arabs,” she sighs. “You just can’t trust them.”

I look at her. My mom never speaks badly of anyone. Never.

“No, Mom?”

“No, baby, you really can’t trust them. Oh, that camera was so expensive…”

We then say nothing for the rest of the journey home.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Riman’s Speech

November 7th 2014

Age 29

Riman stands up and clears her throat. I can see she is excited.

“Hello everyone… As you know already, my name is Riman. I am from East Jerusalem. I grew up here. For over ten years now, I’ve been involved in peacebuilding.”

Riman sighed. “My friends always ask me, ‘Riman, why do you do this? Why do you choose to speak with them?’”

She smiled, a sad smile. “Like Jonathan, it goes back to my childhood. I used to go to the Schmidt College for Girls just by the Damascus gate in the Old City. With the start of the uprising, the first ‘Intifada’, back in 1987 – I was just a little girl. It was…” she paused, “just… let’s say it was a traumatic experience for me.

“The conflict back then,” she continued, “it was a time when I would step out of the school yard into the street, and there would be stones thrown at the soldiers. I could get hit. Sometimes the soldiers would throw tear gas and it would enter the school and we’d all cough and have to wait till it evaporated to continue on with the class. Often, near the walls of the Old City I would see Palestinian men with their faces to the wall and their hands on their heads, with Israeli soldiers pointing their rifles at them. I used to see blood on the street,” Riman said, motioning to the ground, “literally, blood on the street.”

“These,” Riman continued, “are my childhood memories. It made me question, it made me think that it cannot go on this way. There was something wrong with this reality. I wanted for it to change. For it not to be my life.”

Riman breathed in. I looked at her and I could really see the girl she used to be, feeling upset, feeling hurt.

“The hatred was everywhere,” she continued. “On the news we’d see violence, on the street I’d hear expressions of hatred. Personally I didn’t know any Israelis. The city was very much divided, Israelis on one side, Palestinians on the other. All I could comprehend was that those people, those Israelis, they were my enemy. I should hate them.

“But this drove me to questioning and searching. After I finished high school I went to Egypt, where I studied English and Comparative Literature in Cairo. I sought to understand people and cultures through poetry and literature: where do people come from, what are people’s stories, what drives them to choose between one thing and the other, for example, between violence and between doing good.

“In Cairo I would often see demonstrations against Israel,” Riman continued. “These people, the Egyptians, never met Israelis. And they thought they were satanic, like they had tails or something. However I grew up here, I knew Israelis. I didn’t like them, but I also knew they were not… demonic.

“In Egypt, because I was a Palestinian, I was encouraged to join these anti-Israel protests. I was even expected to do so. But something felt… wrong, it didn’t feel right to me. I decided to keep distance from that kind of stuff.

“When I came back to Palestine I was invited to take part in a journalists exchange group between Palestinian journalists and Israeli journalists. Though I was a little apprehensive, I thought, ‘Why not?’

“At that time the second uprising-Intifada was taking place, with all the suicide bombings and everything. Until then… until then, I am embarrassed to say it, but it never really occurred to me that the other side, the Israelis, suffer as well.”

Riman sighed. “Listening to the Israeli journalists in the group, for the first time I heard their stories, their pain. I learned of their fears. For the first time I began to comprehend what anti-Semitism meant for them, what the Holocaust meant for them. I understood them a little more.

“These encounters encouraged me to work for different organizations that promoted this kind of dialogue. I joined the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, some of you may know it as IPCRI,” Riman said.

Some people nodded. IPCRI was a well respected peace organization based in Jerusalem.

“For the past decade,” Riman continued, “all of the jobs I had had to do with making peace happen. Over the years I became the co-director of IPCRI. Today I am also the executive director of ‘Breaking the Impasse’, which is a joint peace initiative of Palestinian and Israeli business and civic leaders.”

I looked at Riman. I was wondering what her family felt about all of her peace activities with Israelis.

“When Jonathan approached me,” Riman continued, “for this project, I didn’t hesitate one second and said ‘Let’s do it!’ Especially in this time for Jerusalem. Many tend to lose hope. But for me there is no other option but to continue talking and engaging with one another.”

Riman sighed. I glanced at the audience. People were glued to her words. I saw Miriam wipe a tear. Was this the same Miriam who two months ago was worried how much I actually knew this Palestinian woman coming and whether we can trust her? Miriam saw I was looking at her, and smiled at me sheepishly.

Riman continued. “There are so many good people on both sides – I know that because I literally spend half my time in Ramallah and in Palestinian cities, and half my time in Tel Aviv and all over Israel. I see people. I hear them. Ultimately – we all want the same thing, a peaceful future.”

Riman looked at me and smiled, “It is indeed the fear, as Jonathan said, that keeps us from coming closer. Before this ‘third uprising-Intifada’ our organization, IPCRI, used to offer Israelis the opportunity to go to Palestinian cities. It’s important. While many Palestinians have been to Tel Aviv, or to other Israeli cities, and have seen how Israelis live, some Palestinians even working in Jewish cities… almost all Israelis have never-ever been to a Palestinian city, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho… So we began taking Israelis to these cities. I used to love, absolutely love, to see their reaction. How they saw that everything was so… normal: that people go to work; that shops open on the street, that it is safe, that people are actually friendly. You know – people are just… people.”

Riman smiled as she was bringing her speech to an end. “We all just want to live our lives peacefully. It’s important for us to remember this – Not to lose the hope, to keep on going!”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Miriam’s email

From: Miriam Gordon

To: Jonathan Kis-Lev

Riman Barakat

Carmen Bereck

Date: Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 2:13 PM

Subject: A quick note

I just want to try to capture in words this sense of inner peace that I am feeling at this moment, after returning home from the Hallelujah Dialogue Project meeting. I don’t know if it is the beautiful autumn day, the calm of the pre-Sabbath hour or the fact that I just met so many like-minded people in such a short time. People who are not afraid of reaching out, of forgetting the labels and the preconceived notions, people who can look at each other’s humanity right in the eye and say, I want to be your friend. It fills me with such hope and I know that from this humble beginning we can build something with the power of the goodness that lies within all of us.

So thank you Jonathan, for being the visionary and the initiator, to Riman and Carmen for helping to make it happen. I look forward to being on this voyage together with all of you.

Love,

Miriam

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. “Students Invited to Become Young Ambassadors”

November 2002

Age 16

I’m panting, running towards the teachers room in my high school. I need to ask the theatre teacher when will our rehearsal take place in the afternoon. Some said “four,” some said “five.” I want to know for sure, as at seven I need to be at the National Theatre.

Three years ago, after studying art professionally in my former art school, I got tired of the art lessons. It felt a little boring. In great opposition to the boredom of drawing still life yet again, I kept hearing the theatre students laughing, screaming, doing improv and all kinds of cool stuff. I decided to audition to the theatre department at the end of my seventh grade, got accepted, and then switched to theatre. I loved it.

Now I was studying at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Each morning I would ride my bike, crossing the bridge over the huge highway underneath, towards the school. My days were packed, as I participated in a real play at the National Theatre. I was the only kid there. Real work – with salary and all, a few times a week. I also took part in a dance troupe, representing Tel Aviv in all kinds of folk dance festivals. I was also narrating and dubbing for TV shows… – basically, I was swamped. Therefore, the difference between a rehearsal at four or at five had actual consequences for me.

On the way to the teachers’ room I pass by a small colorful poster, pinned against the bulletin board. Interesting, haven’t seen it yet, must be new. I stop outside the teachers’ room and spot my theatre teacher. He signals for me to come in.

“Sorry,” I say, “but when is the rehearsal, four or five?” I ask.

“Four, four!” the teacher responds, “I said that if I don’t say anything else it will remain at four!”

“OK, OK, thank you!” I say and leave the room. Good, four is better. I can therefore stay till the end of the rehearsal. I never felt comfortable leaving in the middle of a rehearsal. Few students have already began teasing me on me caring more for my “career” than for the theatre department in school. I didn’t like leaving rehearsals early, as it felt like I was rubbing in their faces the fact I work in what we all dream of working in one day. I sighed a sigh of relief. Good. Four o’clock is better than five.

As I exit the teacher’s room I notice that colorful ad again. I stop and read.

“Students Invited to Become Young Ambassadors at International Schools”

Interesting. I keep reading.

“The United World Colleges Organization (UWC) was founded in 1962, dedicated to bring together students from around the world to get to know each other, do fun activities, and study together.”

I look at the poster’s images. A group of teens, seeming to be from around the world – Asians, Africans, Europeans and more – hug in front of a snow covered mountain.

Another photo of a fancy dorm room, with a bunch of students sitting and talking.

It seems… beautiful.

I feel how envy quickly builds inside me. These freaking programs are always for the rich. ‘Sure, we’d love for you to come! It will only be 10,000 dollars for the three-week program!’

I walk away with disdain.

Little did I know at the time that at that moment a life altering event was taking place, changing the trajectory of my whole life.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Not That Ad Again!

December 2002

Age 16

This ad simply won’t go away.

Usually these ads at our school’s bulletin boards get replaced and changed every few days. But this damn ad with all of these rich teens from around the world is… still here.

As I pass by the teachers’ room I see it again. I’ve been glancing at it several times now, each time with ever-growing disdain.

“Students Invited to Become Young Ambassadors at International Schools

“The United World Colleges Organization (UWC) was founded in 1962, dedicated to bring together students from around the world to get to know each other, do fun activities, and study together.

“Each student is sent for two years to one of our 10 colleges, from which the student then graduates with an International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB).

This time I go on reading, even the small letters.

“We believe that financial means should not impede students interested from applying. Appropriate scholarships are given each year to applicants in need.”

What? There are scholarships? I hurry to read the last line:

“Deadline for applications: January 5th 2002. For more information visit: www.uwc.org”

That’s in two weeks.

Should I apply?

But… two years?

Two whole years?

That’s scary. I’m now in my 11th grade. Will I have to miss my 12th grade? Also, after my 12th grade I need to go to the army. Can that be postponed in a year?

That afternoon I go to the school’s library, sit by one of the three computers there and type the website’s address.

Faces pop up, teenagers smiling at me. The website states that students in the 11th grade, like me, can postpone their military service in one year with a written letter from the Israeli Committee of the United World Colleges (UWC).

I look at what’s needed for the application: Filling a four-page form with personal information. Writing an essay about your dream. Another Essay about social contribution. A third essay about what you can give to the fellow students in the college. Attach letters or certificates indicating social service, volunteering or contribution. Attach two recommendation letters from teachers. Attach end of year report card from the previous three years.

It looks like an overwhelming task.

Should I go for it?

Why not? These students, next to that snowy mountain, looked so happy.

I’ve never seen snow.

Over the next week I work frantically to get the application ready. I convince the manager of a small theatre I volunteered at to give me a recommendation letter. I call the choreographer of the dance troop in which I danced, asking for a certificate. I ask teachers to write recommendation letters. And I write and edit my essays, being assisted by the kind librarian at school.

I don’t tell my parents, though. Why shall I worry them? Besides, the website stated that only 10 students from Israel are chosen each year to be sent to these ten colleges. I read that hundreds apply. I shouldn’t worry my parents about something that is so unlikely to happen!

I sign in their name on the application, seal the large envelope, and send it off.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Selection Weekend

April 2002

Age 16

I passed the first stage of the application process! This is i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e!!! I am so happy!!! Now I am invited to come to a “Selection Weekend”.

Weekend? Two whole days?

I look at the invitation letter. I need to prepare a seven-minutes lecture on any subject I find fit. No restrictions or instructions.

Few weeks ago we visited, the whole class, a Holocaust education center near Tel Aviv. There one of the lecturers said that there are people today who deny the holocaust. Real people. They call themselves “historical revisionists”. I was appalled to hear it. I was sickened by the thought that someone can legitimately argue the Holocaust never happened.

I decide that my short lecture should focus on “Holocaust denial”, and bust my ass to get ready, visiting that museum again, and then going to pick up a videotape about the subject from the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

I practice my speech like crazy. My mom doesn’t understand how Holocaust denial has to do with my school, and why I practice in front of the mirror in my room all the time. I haven’t told her of my application yet. Why should I worry her? The chances are still slim of me passing this whole process.

The weekend approaches and I travel to the camp where the selection weekend is held. Over 100 teens from around the country were selected. After a short speech by the Head of the Committee, a man called Mr. Hamburg, we are divided into smaller groups of 15 candidates. With this group we’ll remain until the end of the camp tomorrow evening.

We go through long sessions, led by our three examiners. The examiners have all gone to these colleges. I envy them!

Now it’s the debates session. Each time two of us are selected to stand in front of the group, and we are given a topic to debate on the spot: “Euthanasia – good or bad? Natalie, you are for the practice of euthanasia, Tom, you are against. Natalie goes first, 60 seconds. Go!”

The topics change with each couple of debaters. Abortions. Affirmative action in universities. Service of women in combat units. Legalization of marijuana.

I get tense. These are difficult topics. I’m so lucky I didn’t get the Euthanasia thing, didn’t know what it was till they clarified…

Darn. Now it’s my turn. My heart is beating fast. I get up. It’s me debating a boy named Daniel.

The examiner says, “Occupation in the Territories – good or bad? Daniel – you’re in favor. Jonathan – you’re in opposition. Daniel, 60 seconds, go!”

My heart is racing. Daniel is pretty eloquent. He finishes right as his 60 seconds are gone.

It’s my turn. I think of all the phrases I disliked hearing from the Sadaka left wingers. I throw them in what I hope sounds comprehensible: right of movement, inhumane treatment, violation of international law, our moral values as the persecuted Jewish people—”

The examiner cuts me harshly, “Now, Jonathan, you switch. You are for the occupation.”

I swallow my saliva. This examiner did it before to this girl who was anti-abortions, asking her to switch and be pro-abortion. So it’s not personal, I hope.

He looks at the watch, “60 seconds, go!”

I spit out my brother’s views; memories of terrorism, many still fresh. “We have tried,” I say, “the peace process has tried everything. We can clearly see that there is no partner in the other side. Occupation today means our safety tomorrow. The safety of our children!”

My 60 seconds passed quickly. I look at the three examiners’ faces. They are sealed. Have I done well?

The next day there are many group dynamics exercises. I hate these exercises, I know some of them from my theatre and improvisation classes. I want to shout at the examiners, “This is stupid and annoying, these situations that you are putting us in!” but instead I bite my tongue and do my best. I try to be both a leader and a follower; to exhibit kindness while being able to show assertiveness; showing real ability to listen, while not discounting my own opinion.

Hate it, hate, hate, hate it!

Time for the presentations we prepared at home. My presentation requires showing a short video. It’s only one minute long, but I want for everyone to see the face of this Holocaust denier speaking. It’s gut-wrenching.

I give my presentation. I have practiced it many times. It goes well. Thank God!!!

Now it’s time for the one on one interviews. Or, more accurately, one on three. I enter the room when my turn comes. I’m instructed to sit down.

The next few minutes fly as I am being asked how will I cope being away from home for two whole years. The examiner says, “It’s not an easy thing for a 16 year old.” After I respond confidently, I am bombarded with more questions. “What can you do to contribute to college life?”; “How can you represent Israel proudly?”; “What is your greatest weakness or fault?” and more.

I try to navigate my way wisely through all of these questions. The examiners have their faces sealed. One man, two women. All in their twenties. One of the women asks me, “Let’s say someone at the college comes and attacks you, saying he has read in your Jewish Passover text that you should, ‘Pour out your wrath upon the nations…’ This student tells you, ‘Here is a proof that all that you Jews know is violence and hatred!’”

She looks at me, awaiting my answer. Darn. I do not know this passage she quoted from. I think I heard it before. My knowledge of Hebrew religious texts is kind of scarce. My parents are kind of atheists. Darn. Darn. Darn!

“Well,” I try to keep my cool, “I would first listen. I think people often need to be listened to. I then would explain that he must understand the context of this passage, which is in Passover, an event which nearly extinguished the Jewish people, with Pharaoh commanding to kill every firstborn in each family, and abusing the Jews as slaves—”

“‘And that’s what you,’” the woman continues with what seems like real anger, “‘that’s what you Jews are now doing, abusing people, haven’t you learned anything from your own suffering?!’”

I’m almost about to cry now. “Well,” I say, “the situation which I think you allude to, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a complicated one. It’s like marriage, if there is a quarrel between the husband and wife, there is a great chance that both sides have something to do with it. The only thing I can tell you for sure about my people, about my family and my friends, is that we want peace, and that the situation is just more… complicated… it’s a complicated conflict… complicated…”

I quiet down, as I realize I am repeating myself.

The man sighs. The woman examiner writes something down. The man stares at his papers, and then says, “Well, thank you, Jonathan.”

It takes me a moment to realize that that meant “Thank you and BYE-BYE”. I feel as if there is more that I want to say. Should I add anything? How can I convince them I am capable of the challenge? I want to amaze them somehow, but all I hear myself saying is a dull “Thank you,” as I leave the room, defeated.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Did You Pass?

May 2002

Age 16

At the end of the two day selection weekend I exchanged phone numbers with most of the participants in my group. During those two days, being put under challenging exercises, with silent examiners who keep expressionless faces, we all kind of bonded.

It was a weird bonding experience, as we all knew that we were also competing against one another, but nevertheless, some friendships were created.

When I got the phone call that I passed the seminar I was elated. Elated! I couldn’t believe it. “Sure, I’ll write it down,” I said, frantically looking for a pen, “Wednesday at five thirty, the 21st floor? Yes, I will be there! Anything I need to prepare? OK, good! OK, thanks!”

Oh my God!

I breathed in. Could this mean?

Too early to celebrate, Jonathan!

I had two challenges, though.

All of my new friends were soon exchanging text messages. Texts like ‘Bummer, I didn’t pass,’ kept appearing on my cell phone, with the question, ‘Did they call you yet?’

I actually wanted to lie, and not to admit that I passed to the next stage. I crafted lame messages saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t pass! These fools! I don’t know why, but somehow I got a yes for the next stage… but chances are slim, twenty passed and they will eliminate half…”

Some responded back with “Good luck Jonathan!”

Some didn’t respond.

My parents were the bigger challenge.

“You won’t believe it,” I say, trying to sound casual, “I found this program that brings students from around the world together.”

My parents look at me, seated on the couch in our living room. My mother grins, “That is great, Jon, When is it?”

“Well, I think it begins in September…”

“It’s not a summer program?” she asks, “I don’t want you to miss school…”

I look at her with compassion. “Umm…” I say, “it’s a program that is kind of a school of its own…” I know that I should wait no longer, “It’s a t… t… two year program.”

My father seems startled, “Two years?” he asks, as if awoken from a dream.

I nod.

“Where is it?” My mother asks. I don’t think she really cares where it is, but that she is trying to earn some time. To gather some information. I see that her hands are fidgeting with one another.

“There are,” I explain, “ten such… colleges…”

The conversation unfolds as I am being bombarded with questions:

“Where are they located? Oh, so far away!”

“The money – who is paying for this, you know that we can’t afford it, right?”

“And what about the army? Really, are you absolutely sure you can postpone it? But you will be, well, 19 when you finish this ‘college’, you don’t want to start the army too late…”

“Are you not pleased with your current school?”

“Is everything OK at the school’s theatre department?”

Underneath all the questions I hear two underlying questions: my father asking ‘What is so interesting abroad that you don’t have here?’ and my mother asking ‘Are you trying to get away from us – from me?’

I try to respond the best I can. I try to make light of it, saying, “Well, there is a big chance I will not pass, there are twenty of us, and ten scholarships only…”

“Of course you will pass!” my mother says, as I see her eyes begin to water. I am not sure if she is happy or sad. I would bet on the latter.

Emotions begin to bug me as I stand up to escape the situation, “Well, let’s not overthink it, as chances are slim. I will let you know, don’t worry.”

And I hurry to my room.

Now, two days later, I am sitting in front of a seven-people-committee.

S-e-v-e-n freaking people!

It’s not like I haven’t been through rigorous interviews before: auditions at the National Theatre; auditions to my high school – the prestigious Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts. It was possibly the most difficult high school to be accepted to in Israel, with what is known as a hellish selection process. Yet it was nothing like what I was going through now.

“There are ten colleges,” Mr. Hamburg, the Head of the Committee says, “and we have more candidates than we have scholarships.”

Silence. I nod.

He continues, “Of the ten scholarships, three are full scholarships, and seven are partial scholarships. At the end of the meeting you will be asked to take some financial forms with you home, for your parents to fill. Of the ten that will pass to the next stage, seven will be given partial scholarships, requiring family participation. Do you understand?”

I did understand. What I understood is that if I get a ‘partial scholarship’ then I will not be able to go.

The Committee proceeds to ask me difficult questions. Some are like the ones I was asked in the previous interview during the selection weekend. Some are new:

“There has been a case of a student being unable to cope with being so far away from home, and so he left the college and the scholarship was gone, we couldn’t replace him, you understand? How can we guarantee that you will not want to leave in the middle?”

“I see here in your resume that you are very active on TV and theatre. Don’t you think it’s a shame to desert all of your success? It will not be waiting for you when you come back, you know…?”

“You study at Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, with Israel’s best teachers, best facilities, an… elitist education—”

This last comment unnerves me – I have to interrupt, “I get a scholarship to go there,” I say urgently. Have they not seen it in the application?

They look at me with stern faces. Should I have not interrupted her? I should be more careful.

“That’s not what we are saying,” the woman continues. “If you don’t get to go abroad, you will remain in Thelma Yellin, a great school by all means. Why should we choose you over another student, who has the same accomplishments as yours, but who comes from an underprivileged background, and – if he does not get to go to one of the colleges – will stay at a disadvantaged school.”

Silence. I know that I need to respond fast. “Well, I…” my voice cracks. I feel like I’m about to cry. Why indeed should they choose me over another candidate? “I trust that you will make the wisest decision,” I say, “all I know is that I am committed to learn and to do good. I think it is important to consider the background of the candidate, but I also think it is important to look at what the candidate can… contribute. I would like to contribute…?”

My last comment ends up sounding like a question. I am upset with her question. Why does she put me in such a situation as to tell them to take me over another? It felt unfair to me.

“Alright,” says Mr. Hamburg. “That will do. We will keep in touch and let you know. Don’t forget to take the financial forms from the reception, and fax it back to us as soon as possible.”

I stutter a quiet “Thank you,” and leave the room.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. One More Stage!

May 2002

Age 16

My cellphone rings.

“Jonathan?”

A manly voice. I answer, “Yes?”

“This is Mr. Hamburg, from the—”

“Oh hi Mr. Hamburg, hi!”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well…?” I say, and then remember to be polite, “and you?”

“I’m fine, listen, I have some good news for you.”

My heart is pounding as I hear him saying: “You got accepted.”

“And,” I am quick to respond, “is it the full scholarship?”

Mr. Hamburg laughs, “Well, we don’t know yet, that’s the next stage. But,” I hear an uneasiness in his voice, “Jonathan, aren’t you happy?”

“Oh I am, very happy,” I say.

Mr. Hamburg says, “When I called the other students who got accepted, they yelled and screamed. You are pleased, right?”

“Yes,” I say, “it’s just, I know that if it is not the full scholarship then there is no reason to be happy, you see…?”

“Now-now, we’ll look into that, we received all your forms… Just wanted to let you hear the good news. We’ll be calling your parents any day to schedule a meeting with them.”

“OK, I appreciate it. Thank you for letting me know!”

“We’ll be in touch!” Mr. Hamburg says.

Only as I hang up I grasp the weight of that call. I am elated. I am nervous. I am… scared.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. nothing good in this damned country

May 2002

Age 16

“I cannot believe you!” Atheer says, and I can see that he is hurt, “You are leaving as well…? At the end there will be nothing good left in this damned country…!”

I just told him about the possibility of me going to study abroad, if I get a full scholarship, which I will know in few days. I expected for him to be happy for me, so I am a little taken aback by his response.

“What do you mean?” I say and sit up. We are enjoying the warm evening in Tel Aviv, sitting on a bench in front of my building.

“I mean,” Atheer says, “my older brother’s best friend left to study in Moscow. Now you are leaving somewhere, you guys are leaving this country to the extremists!”

“Oh, I’ll be back,” I say. “And that’s only if I get the full scholarship!”

But Atheer is not convinced. “You’ll see, you will stay there and forget about us little people, and forget this damned country with its injustice, and live like a king abroad.”

Atheer has been growing increasingly unhappy recently. With life. I look at him and don’t get it. “Atheer, man, what’s going on?”

He is quiet.

“Come on!” I say. “Yalla, what’s going on?”

“I see no future here, man…” he finally says, his voice cracks.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I… you see, you can go and serve in the army, then the Ministry of Defense will open doors to you, you can go into politics, possibly lead this fucking country one day and change things…”

Now it is my turn to be quiet. Atheer had brought up the subject of exclusion from Israeli society before. Arabs can’t really serve in the army, nor do they really want to. Only few do, from minority groups within the Arabs. Most Arabs don’t join the army, and the government doesn’t want them to. In turn, there are jobs that are closed for Arabs, mostly in the security and defense realms, naturally.

I look at Atheer. Though I will argue out loud against what he just said, I know that I would have not wanted to be in his shoes. These are the same shoes my parents were in, in Russia. Sort of.

“But,” I protest, “so what if you can’t do the army? Better for you! I’m jealous of you! You get to go straight to university, there are not less scholarships for Arabs than there are for Jews, and by the time you will be a lawyer or a scientist or whatever, I will just finish the freakin’ army and be a freshman.” I smile, “You will look at me in university and not want to associate with me because you’ll be a senior!”

“Man, as if that’s an advantage,” Atheer says, and I can see the real sadness in his eyes. Atheer, way more than me, is an activist. He really cares. I make myself care. He doesn’t have to make himself, he is just naturally more involved than I am. He knows how to quote national texts such as our Declaration of Independence by heart, while Hebrew is not even his first language. He has a natural appetite for learning about social issues. He learned a lot about communism and liked it so much he even decided to learn Russian. And while having all of that hunger he feels that he nevertheless cannot profoundly affect the place he lives in.

“Jonathan,” Atheer says, “can you ever imagine an Arab prime minister in Israel?”

“Well,” I say, “I do hope that one day—”

“You see,” he says and points his finger at my face, “you looked away! You looked away! It says it all!”

“No it does not!” I protest.

“Yes it does. No way you can see an Arab Prime Minister, and that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

“But, Atheer, things will change. They changed for the blacks in America…! They changed for women…! They will change for Arabs here too!”

“Man, this is a freaking J-e-w-i-s-h country. Even a blind man can see I ain’t a Jew!”

I smile. A sad smile.

Atheer sighs. “In a year, after high school is over, I think of going to Russia to study.”

“Russia?!” I exclaim, “You will freeze your ass there, man! Besides, what do you have to look for there you won’t find here?”

“What do you have, Jonathan, to look for in some college abroad that you don’t have here?!”

“Touché,” I say quietly. “But I will eventually come back to this country and make sure things change so that guys like you won’t feel so…”

“Second rate”, he says, as I, simultaneously, say, “excluded.”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. You are lucky boy!

June 2002

Age 16

My father calls me on my cellphone. I’ve been waiting for his call, keeping an eye on my cellphone the whole hour. About an hour ago my parents went into the meeting with the heads of the United World Colleges Committee.

“So…?!” I yell as I pick up. There’s lots of noise around me – it’s my school’s midday break – and I run to find a quiet corner as I say again, “So…?!?!”

“You are a very lucky boy!” My father says with excitement, as I hear my mother saying in the background, “Here give me the phone… Jon baby?”

“Mom?”

“We got a full scholarship baby!”

Yessssss!!!” I scream. Few students look at me disapprovingly. I don’t care. What a relief, what a freaking, amazing, unbelievable relief! I hurry to ask the next question, “To where? To which one?”

“You wanted Canada, right?” my mother asks tentatively.

“I did…” I say. Of the three colleges that offered full scholarships, one in Canada, one in Italy, and one in Britain, I thought the Canada one seemed the best.

“Well,” my mother says, “you got Canada!”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I jump up and down. Some students stare. I don’t care. I’M GOING TO CANADA!!!

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Farewell, Home

August 2002

Age 16

The airplane takes off.

My two suitcases are somewhere in the belly of this airplane. Packed for a whole year, till next summer.

In that far away college I am going to turn 17 in two weeks.

It was difficult in the airport. My mom still said, “Be safe, take care, eat well, call – you will call when you land, right?”

“Sure, mom, for sure!”

Saying goodbye to my mom and dad, and to my little two sisters… It was difficult.

Some (many) hours later I arrived in the college. As the van drove through the woods I couldn’t stop looking up through the window. Huge trees. Taller than any tree I ever saw in Israel.

“You’re Jonathan?” an Asian-looking guy reaches his hand to me.

“I am…” I say.

“I’m Bingwen, you’re roommate! From Hong Kong!”

“Oh, hi Bingwen!” I say excitedly. Then another guy reaches his hand, “And I’m Arian, from Albania, your roommate too!”

“Wow! Hi Arian, nice to meet you!”

Along with Bingwen and Arian, I also share the room with a guy from Panama called Jose. So our room has quite a few continents in it. But that’s nothing special. 200 students from nearly 100 countries. Unbelievable.

I unpack my clothes and books. Outside, through the window, I see two huge trees, which I later would learn are Western red cedar, and a gargantuan Douglas fir. They dwarf the trees back home. I unpack a photo I brought with me of my family. I place it near the bed.

Here is where I will stay for two years. Learn, grow. I will get to know myself better. I will have high moments and low moments. It will be my home – my home away from home. Here, near the Pacific Ocean, on a bay called Pedder Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada – this will be my home. I hope I knew what I was doing when I climbed on that airplane.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. College for Peace?

September 2002

Age 16

I’m in a van, headed back towards the College. This past week was so hectic, getting to know our teachers, choosing afternoon activities, etc. I was so happy for the day off, to go the city, Victoria, some 40 minutes drive away. Now, on the way back, I intentionally sat next to the guy from Palestine, Amal. Amal and I barely had any chance to speak thus far. I feel like he’s been avoiding me. I figure that this ride can somehow bond us.

“So Amal!” I say to him, “Where are you from in Palestine?”

“I’m from Beit Furik,” Amal says, as he keeps staring through the window.

“Where is that?” I say.

“It’s near Nablus.”

“Wow,” I say excitedly, “I was once in Nablus, few years ago, for an art camp weekend with Israelis and Palestinians!”

Amal is not moved nor impressed.

Does he hate me because I’m Israeli, or because I’m just… annoying? I can feel that there is no chemistry between us.

Maybe it’s not that I’m Israeli, I think. Possibly he finds me too… sensitive? Or loud? Too… irritating? Too… girly? Too energetic? In the past few days I tried everything to make him like me. Around him I’m really trying my best to appear smart, cool, kind.

It’s really tiring.

Yet somehow, after trying really hard, I’m able to kindle some conversation. Amal still looks through the window, but at least he’s responding.

Somehow the pithy conversation between us turns to Israeli leaders. I agree with Amal about Ariel Sharon, Israel’s new Prime Minister. “I don’t like him either,” I say. “But surely, do you like Ehud Barak?” I ask, referring to the previous Israeli Prime Minister, who I thought was very peaceful and concessions oriented.

“Barak?!” Amal says, “I hate him!”

“What about Shimon Peres?” I ask.

“No. Don’t like him either.”

I feel my lips drying. Peres is one of my heroes, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Surely, I think, he will like the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated seven years earlier following his support for the peace process. “And what about Yitzhak Rabin?”

“No!” he says. “I don’t like him either. I don’t like any Israeli leader, any Israeli at all!”

I keep quiet as the van keeps driving. I don’t know what to think. We don’t say a word until we arrive back at the college, when I can finally breath normally again.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Birthday Away from Home

September 12^th^ 2002

Age 17

I wake up in the middle of the night, hearing whispers around me. I hear a somewhat familiar voice: “Hey, guys, be careful with him, he’s my roomie…”

Where am I? I was just dreaming of my little sister, she was singing and dancing in our childhood home, in the village… but where am I? It’s not our Tel Aviv apartment… I hear English spoken around me!

All of a sudden I feel arms around me, and underneath me, grabbing my legs, my shoulders… I try to resist. I hear, “Be careful with him!”

Oh, that’s the voice of my roommate, Bingwen! I’m in the College! Canada! All of a sudden I remember the conversation in the cafeteria over dinner. Bingwen and Arian came to me, explaining to me of the “tradition” of how they celebrate birthdays here in the College. This is their second year. My birthday, they explain, is the first one this year, September 12th. “So,” they say eagerly, “go to sleep wearing something comfortable,” they say and giggle.

“Sure,” I said, not wanting to appear uncool.

Now I’m being lifted off the mattress, hands strong hands, many hands and arms and heavy breaths. Out the door, and in the dim light of the corridor I can see that some many guys are carrying me. They take me through the outside stairways. It’s pitch dark outside. In between the arms and bodies carrying me I see a bunch of girls and everyone is pacing quickly running near us. Some girl whispers, “Happy birthday Jonathan,” as the others hush her “Shshsh….!”

One of the guys carrying me seems to be upset, “C’mon, c’mon, let’s take him to the docks!”

“No, no,” I hear a few girls saying, and then my roommate’s, Arian’s voice: “No, stick to what we said!” The trail between the dorms quickly winds around the cafeteria and I can now see the lights of the college’s large indoor pool. Someone pinches the code and the door opens. Then I hear a loud “Happy birthday Jonathan!” and feel how my body swings backwards and—

Oh no, I don’t, please don’t—

—SPLASH!

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Which Europe Should I go back to?

December 2002

Age 17

As the months passed in the college, I got acclimated. I made some friends. Mostly girls. Maria from Costa Rica. Janet from the United States. Few guys too. My roommate Jose from Panama. Even a fun guy from Jordan called Shayaan.

Yet with Amal from Palestine I had no success. I tried my best, though. I once pretended to need something from Leo, Amal’s roommate from France. Then, as I saw Amal studying at his desk, I wanted to spark a conversation.

I noticed a big map of Israel above his bed, the kind of which we have in every classroom back home. I was taken aback, though, by the heading, in Arabic and English:

“PALESTINE”

“Amal,” I said, trying to sound casual, “that’s a cool map.”

“Thank you,” Amal muttered.

Being my bubbly self, I could not but ask “Amal, do you think that the whole land is Palestine?”

Amal glanced at the map, “Of course!”

I swallowed my saliva. “And…” I tried to think of how to phrase the question, “and is there a place for Jews in this Palestine?”

“No,” he said. “It is an A-r-a-b country.”

I paused. I didn’t expect that from him. What can I say to that? This leaves no room for me to even reach out. “But,” I said quietly, “where should I go? My family?”

“You came from Europe?” Amal asked, looking straight at me.

I nodded.

“Then,” he said, “you go back to Europe.”

I felt my lips drying. My eyes watering. I wanted to yell at him, ‘You fool, where in Europe do you want me to go to? To Siberia, where my parents weren’t allowed into University because the ‘Jewish Quota’ was already full? Or should I go to Auschwitz, in Poland? Or Bergen-Belsen in Germany? Or Bolzano in Italy? To Janowska in the Ukraine? To Jasenovac in Croatia? Should I go to my great grandmother’s house where they hung her father in his own home? Or should I go to Paris, where Jews were taken on trains to Auschwitz? Which Europe should I go back to? The one in which they desecrate to this very day our gravestones and synagogues? To which Europe?!’

But instead, I said nothing, took my notebooks, and stormed outside.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. My Mother’s Great Grandfather

Winter 1997

Age 12

We are flipping through an old album, my mother and I. She stops and puts her finger on a black and white photograph of a family.

“This is my mother’s grandfather,” my mother explains to me proudly.

I look at the man seated in the center, opposing his wife, surrounded by their children. His pose hints of a great stature. His eyes stare straight towards the camera. So dignified! In his face I see a little of myself… Big nose. Big thick eyebrows. Underneath his black hat I can bet there is a big forehead as well.

“He was one of the richest people in Kishinev,” my mother says proudly. “He had a big home. He owned property of nearly the whole street. Had many stores…”

Wow, I think. I never knew we were ever rich! This is exciting!

She is about to turn the album’s page, but I stop her, “Did you know him?” I ask as I look at his dark eyes in the photograph.

“No,” my mother says quietly, “he… died before I was born.”

Something is wrong with the way she said it. She looked away, feigning jolliness.

“How did he die?” I ask.

My mom is quiet.

“Mom,” I say, looking into her eyes, “How did he die?”

“The Germans,” my mom says, barely uttering the words.

I say nothing.

Then she adds, “He was hung, upstairs, in his home.”

I don’t know what to say.

“It’s cold,” she says and gets up. “I’m making tea, do you want some?”

We never speak of it again.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. The Holocaust Folder

February 2002

Age 17

Amal must have understood that something was wrong. I saw how he would look at me in the Cafeteria. We haven’t spoken for two months. I was unwilling to approach him.

Somehow I find myself in the library around aisle 940.53. I look at the titles of the books. I feel an odd feeling of comfort seeing all of a sudden some familiar names. Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Viktor Frankl… I open some books.

I sit on the carpet between the aisles. I find solace in familiar books. Except for the language, it feels like the library back at school, at home, so far away.

Then I see a large folder at the bottom of the book aisle. I pull it out.

“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”

I open it up. I see large, black and white photos from the Holocaust, with some explanation below each one.

I flip through them, one by one.

My eyes water. Amal, I think, must see this.

At dinner I spot Amal in the cafeteria. He is seated near a few Arab students from different Arab countries. As I approach him, I see they all become a little alarmed. It puzzles me. Alarmed by me?

“Hey Amal,” I say, trying to sound as casual as I can, “would you mind joining me at the library, at the Pearson Room, after dinner? I’d love to show you something.”

A moment of silence. “I can’t,” Amal says, “I have a choir rehearsal.”

“It ends at seven thirty, right?” I say, and immediately add, “Can you come when you finish? It’s just few minutes I wanna show you something.”

I look around the table, “You guys are invited too.”

My heart pounds as I walk away. I got to do it. He needs to see it. I think to myself that it is crazy that at home I had Arab friends, and here – at this far away college for ‘world peace’ – I have yet to make any real friends among the Arab students.

I then also thought, Jonathan, if you have any sense in you, you will not speak much this evening, but listen.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Talking of Paindגג

February 2002

Age 17

Evening. I sat in the Pearson room, a quiet, peaceful room, with a nice carpet and couches, overlooking the bay. I tried to read a book I had to read for English class, but found it hard to concentrate. That large Holocaust folder laid next to me.

“Hi.”

I lift my head, seeing Amal’s grim face. I see he is joined by Shayaan, the student from Jordan. I am happy to see Shayaan. We were both taking the same afternoon activity of Ukrainian Dancing. He was nice to me. When I first met Shayaan at the beginning of the year he was impressed with how I pronounced his name correctly, saying “Everyone here call me Shayen, and I say, ‘Guys, can’t you see that there are two A’s in my name – Shayaaaaaaaan!”

We both laughed. He was funny. I then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote his name in Arabic, saying, “Is this how you write it?”

Shayaan was shocked. “What, are you Arab?”

“No,” I laughed, “I’m Jewish, from Israel. But we learn Arabic in School… at least, you can choose to learn Arabic in school.”

“That’s great,” Shayaan said and smiled, “We don’t study Israeli… – no, Hebraic – in Jordan.” I knew right then and there that Shayaan and I will eventually be friends.

Amal and Shayaan both walked into the Pearson Room. For few minutes we spoke about the choir, Ukrainian dancing, and other activities.

“So…” I finally said, trying to sound casual yet again, “I stumbled upon this in the library, and thought you might be interested in having a look. I…” I paused, “This… it talks of pain, and I think,” I said, trying to stay collected, “that you, Amal, would know of pain, with all what you guys, Palestinians, are going through…”

Amal seemed interested, and I could see that the simple mentioning of the Palestinian pain was well received by him.

I kneeled down on the carpet and opened the large folder. My heart was racing, hoping Amal won’t see the photos, jump up and scream at me, ‘Enough with your rehashed Holocaust already!’

He didn’t.

Instead, he looked at the first photo I placed on the carpet: a Nazi soldier on the left, pointing a rifle at a mother holding her baby on the right. The inscription below “Executions of Jews by German army mobile killing units near Ivangorod.”

I say nothing. Amal looks at me. I look down at the photo, afraid to have our eyes meet.

He then turns to the next photo. I know this one. Children behind barbed wire fence. They seem hungry, tired. The inscription states, “Young survivors at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, liberated by the Red Army in January 1945.”

Amal turns to the next photo. Shayaan gasps, “Oh my God…

I have a look and immediately glance away. “Jewish mass grave near Zolochiv, Nazi occupied Ukraine.”

I remain quiet as Amal flips through the photos. The air feels dense. Photos of a synagogue burning during Kristallnacht. More photos of children. Mothers. Families deported onto trains. Then the last photo, chimneys with black smoke.

There is a moment of silence between the three of us. I then say quietly, almost in a whisper, “Can you see why I don’t want to go back to Europe?”

Amal looks at me. I feel like it is the first time that he doesn’t only look at me, but sees me.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Inshallah

Summer 1991

Age 6

My dad stops on the side of the road for this older lady. She stood there, in our village’s small bus station, hitchhiking.

My dad reaches over my older brother David, and exclaims: “Where to, ma’am? To Lod?”

“Yes…” the old lady says, and opens the car door, entering with two huge grocery bags.

We drive past the entrance to the village on the main road. I cannot stop looking at this old lady sitting next to me. Then, she looks at me, and I hurry to look away.

“Are you from Lod?” My dad asks.

“Oh yes,” she responds.

“Do you know,” my dad asks, “a man called Salah, Abu Salah?”

“Of course! He is my father’s nephew!”

My dad is excited, “He helped me build the room for this boy,” and he points at David.

David’s room was an annex to the house, that an old man and my dad built together last year.

I am intrigued by this lady as something is… different about her. She doesn’t seem like my dad’s old aunties with their red cheeks and all. She seems more… she looks funny!

They talk about Abu Salah, and my dad states he has “hands of gold!”

“Our whole family,” the old lady says proudly, “everyone has hands of gold!”

“I sure hope to see Abu Salah soon,” my dad says.

Inshallah, you will see each other soon!”

They then continue chatting, all the while I look at her face carefully, at the wrinkles in her hands, without her noticing (she’s a little scary). She explains that she was born in Lod. She pronounces it funny, al-Ludd.

We then turn into the city.

She raises her hand, “Stop here please.”

“But we can take you home,” my dad says.

“No, no, darling, I walk, in my age it is good walking.”

I look at her two heavy bags, alarmed. They seem so heavy!

My Dad looks at her in the rear view mirror, “Please, ma’am, let us drive you home!”

“No, no, darling. I walk, I need to stay strong!”

My dad then stops the car. “You come to visit us when you are again near our village, ask for the house of the camera man, it’s near the entrance to the village!”

“Inshallah, Inshallah,” the lady responds. “Thank you darling! May God bless you and give you health,” she says as she takes her two heavy bags out, “and wealth, and prosperity, and work, and good children,” she says and looks at me with a severe look.

I look away!

“Amen,” my dad says, “same to you!”

Yet the lady continues, “And success, and joy, and health, health, health, health! Inshallah!” and she slams the car’s door with a huge strength.

“Same to you!” My dad says.

As we drive away I look through the rear windshield. I see the old lady carrying those two huge bags. “Dad,” I say, “she was so… she spoke so… funny!”

“Very nice lady,” my dad says, “very nice lady!”

My brother asks, “Do you know her, Dad?”

“I think I’ve seen her before, maybe? But good thing we were able to help her, why wait for the bus in this heat…”

“Dad, what is…” I’m trying to remember the word, “In-sha-la?”

“It is,” my dad says, “‘With the help of God,’ I think.”

My brother jumps in, “God is ‘Allah’ in Arabic, right, dad?”

“Yes, their God is called Allah.”

It takes me a moment but then it dawns on my six years old mind. “What? This lady was… Arab?”

David turns around and looks at me with an amused look, “You didn’t know?!”

“No…” I say.

I fall silent as the car keeps driving. Arab…? Real Arab? Really?

In the kindergarten the teacher mentioned that we celebrate that we won the war against the Arabs. And had we not won, we would have lost. And then we would have had no country.

At that time I used to watch Peter Pan on TV, and the only “war” I could imagine was between Peter Pan and Captain Hook with his awfully scary pirates! I imagined these “Arabs” who the teacher mentioned as scary men, with black eye patches, beards, and big bellies!

Then there was this awful war.

And the sirens…

And on TV we did see some of these Arabs.

The scary man with black hair and scary eyes and big mustache who shouted on TV did indeed looked like a pirate to me.

But I didn’t know these “Arabs” had any ladies! Certainly on Peter Pan I didn’t see any pirate lady. ANY!

“Do they,” I ask, interested, “also have women Arabs?”

David looks back, and I can see my dad’s smile through the rear-view mirror. David then erupts in laughter, “How do you think they are born moron?”

“David!” my dad scolds him, “Now, now!”

But I see my dad is also sort of laughing at me too!

What??” I say. This lady did not seem bad. Surely if one of these Arab men would try to hitchhike my dad would not take them with us! That would be dangerous!

We keep driving, and my thoughts keep coming back to this old woman. She did seem odd. And her bags were extremely heavy-looking. Did she have anything inside? Explosives? Possibly small missiles??

“Jon,” my dad interrupts my thoughts, “you do know that Abu Salah is also Arab?”

What?” I say with amazement. Now this is getting too much! “No way!” I say.

I remember that Abu Salah was… really nice. We fed him! He ate with us! At our home!

Did he choose to leave the pirate life? Are there many like him, ex-pirate Arabs??

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Our Pain, Our Bridge

December 2002

Age 17

From the window I saw the cold Canadian night.

Amal seemed moved. So was Shayaan. The three of us were seated on the carpet of the Pearson room, near the library.

“Europe is,” I say, “still not really safe for us. You two know how there’s animosity to Muslims in Europe, especially after 9/11?”

“Yeah,” Amal said.

“Totally,” Shayaan added, “it’s almost unsafe for women to wear our traditional head covering!”

“Well,” I said with a sad smile, “it ain’t much better towards the Jews. Just a week ago I read that they still print, anti-Semites that is, still print things like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These are really racist, scary books,” I said, “and even today there are still synagogues being attacked and Jews killed.”

Amal seemed to be thinking. “These photos…” he finally said, “are like, they are like… like what’s going on at home…”

Shayaan was quiet.

I was quiet too. I knew I had two options, to start saying, ‘Well, not exactly,’ and to argue, ‘you cannot possibly compare the systematic mass killing of millions of Jews, their transportation to concentration camps and the means of killing used there, to what’s going on in the Territories!’

Yet I learnt over the years to listen. To truly listen.

So I listened.

“This soldier,” Amal said and looked for the photo, “here! This soldier pointing his rifle to the mother and child, this, Jonathan, this is what we go through each day!”

I listened. I breathed in and listened.

“You don’t know,” Amal continued, “what it means for us to be so… humiliated each day, like this…” he pointed at the photo.

He was moved. Were his eyes moist? He then sat up at once – as if seeming vulnerable would make me win or something.

But I didn’t say a word.

“It’s wrong,” Amal continued, “it’s just… wrong that you, that your people, do this to us…!”

I said nothing, looking at him without flinching, trying to empathize the best I could.

“Roadblocks, blockades!” Amal continued, “Soldiers coming into houses in the middle of the night… humiliating my mother, taking my father…!”

I listened.

In my mind I shift back home. My mother. I sense her hand on my shoulder. I imagine her saying, “Sweetie, Jon-baby, just listen…”

My thoughts are interrupted. Amal seems angry. Really angry.

“You didn’t learn anything!” he says.

I breathe in. ‘Just listen, Jonathan.’

“You didn’t learn a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g,” Amal repeats, as if to make sure the sword goes in. “How can you, of all people, with this,” he points at the pictures in a pile, “how can you then do what you do to us?”

He looks at me with big dark eyes. I look back at him, trying my best to listen.

“My father sat in your jail for two years, and then again for three years!”

The way he said in ‘your’ jail made me shiver. Never did I, Jonathan, build any jail…!

“My father,” Amal continues, “never did anything to you. He spoke of our liberation. Him fighting for our rights as a people does not justify you putting a person in jail, a person with a family, with a wife, with…” Amal’s voice broke a little, “with kids!”

“How many siblings do you have?” I ask, trying to remain calm. To myself I think, ‘I did NOT put your father in jail!’

“We are five.”

Like my family. I murmur, “We are five too…”

“I am the oldest. Imagine,” he continues, and points his finger at me, laying it on my chest, “that you, at the age of eight, need to start taking care of your family when your mother is…” Amal almost breaks into tears, but then stiffens, “when your mother is pregnant!”

Shayaan moves a little, I see that he is also uncomfortable. Somehow him shifting uncomfortably reassures me, and I look at Amal, willing to hear more.

“All my dad was fighting against, is your occupation and your apartheid!”

This word is about to launch me to the ceiling… Arghhh! There is no apartheid! Yes, I want to say, true, there are problems, discrimination, violence… But apartheid? The West Bank and Gaza are not a part of sovereign Israel. OK, the free movement of Palestinians is heavily regulated by us, but they have their own government, however dysfunctional it may be. And within Israel – with those Palestinians who remained in the 1948 borders, like my friend Atheer’s family – they get the same rights, more or less. Atheer himself corrected me saying he can move within the country freely. True, there is still some discrimination and more than anything, fear. But there was NO official policy of discrimination against Arabs like there was against Blacks in South Africa, no minority controlling a majority that does not have even the right to vote! That’s not the case in Israel, where everyone can vote, and, call me anything, colonialist, nationalist, but don’t say that we are an apartheid!

I wanted to say all this, but I said nothing.

Amal must have seen how I cringed, because he lapsed into a speech: “Well how do you call the way you control us – four million people, when you issue our IDs, you build settlements in our land, to which we cannot enter…!”

I wanted to protest but Amal kept going. “Jonathan, there are separate roads for you and for us, checkpoints that stop us and not you, all as part of colonizing the land and forcing us to want to leave, through suffering and constant harassing and day to day killing!”

I bit my tongue.

Amal looked at me disapprovingly. “How do you call all of that if not ‘apartheid’?”

I wanted to say, ‘I call it occupation. Possibly even a form of colonization. I call it our stupidity and your stupidity mixed together…’ – but I said nothing.

Amal took a breath. Shayaan hugged his knees against his chest.

Was this right? Was I even right as to try and talk with Amal?

“What would you do,” Amal continued, “if your land was taken, the village in which your grandfather’s family lived for centuries was taken, your whole family was kicked out, you are forced to live under” – Amal pointed at Shayaan – “Jordanian rule, and then 19 years later you are occupied again, but now by the enemy who kicked you out in the first place?”

I tried to do the math. He was talking of the years between 1948 and 1967… In 1948 The land that was previously under the British was divided between three powers. The new state of Israel, controlling most of the land, Jordan controlling the West Bank as well as a big part of Jerusalem, and Egypt controlling the Gaza Strip. Then, in 1967, during the six-day war, Israel took over these areas from Jordan and Egypt.

From what I could gather, Amal’s family came from a village which was in the area which became Israel in 1948, and his family was forced to move into the West Bank, which became a part of Jordan. Then, 19 years later, in 1967, Israel took over the West Bank. I was taught in school that it was done to ensure our security. During those 19 years Jordan would often send militants across the 1948 borders, called fedayeen, to attack Israeli civilians and army. Israel’s very existence was at stake…

Amal interrupted my thoughts, “You don’t know what it means to grow up in a land where you are told by the occupier that it is not your own, that everywhere you are being reminded and forced to think that you are an intruder. How can I be an intruder where my parents lived there for hundreds of years?”

I kept quiet.

“It is a mechanism, a military mechanism, that is designed to break my people,” Amal said.

I said nothing. Amal said nothing. Shayaan said nothing.

Finally I spoke. “I can’t imagine, what it feels like, to have your father be put in prison, and for you to need to take care of the family, at the age of eight…”

Amal looked at me and then looked away. “It’s… no one should experience it. And then, when my mother went to protest against his incarceration, she was also imprisoned, for two weeks. We had to move in with my aunt and uncle, and there was no room for us there. My siblings were crying for our mom to return, and I had to explain to them that you guys,” Amal said and pointed at me, “took our mom because she stood for her rights, for our rights, that she was a hero.”

Wow, I thought. So sad.

So unbelievingly sad.

I asked quietly, “But then she returned…?”

Amal snorted, “Only after she was forced to sign a humiliating paper stating that she would not take any part in the struggle for human rights and for the rights of prisoners…”

This was slowly becoming too much for me.

This was my country he was talking about, my government, my army. My brother was in this army. My father is in reserve military duty. In two years I was supposed to join this same army which took his mother just because she was protesting?

“I’m…” I began saying, “I’m so sorry…”

“Sorry will not do!” Amal said. “If you are sorry for me you should be sorry for my neighbors, for my uncles and aunts, for my whole people!”

“I am sorry for your whole people!” I exclaimed.

Shayaan seemed unhinged. “Man,” he said to Amal, “this is not his fault.”

Amal kept staring at me. “I didn’t say it was his fault. But his father was probably in the army, your uncles, you will be there too, right?”

I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Well, I had to.

“You see!” Amal pointed at me. “You don’t see us as human beings, you treat us like dogs…!”

I couldn’t have it any more. I shouted, “I am sorry for what the army is doing Amal!”

Amal was quiet.

I felt helpless. What was I trying to achieve here after all? Why was I so desperate for him to like me? I don’t need his approval.

“You know,” Amal said, “That you are the first Israeli I meet who is not a soldier?”

“I…” wow, I thought. I had met many Arabs, some Israeli citizens, some Palestinians from the Territories. Can it really be that I’m the first Israeli he meets?

Amal seemed to be thinking, “No, some of you are alright. Do you know Leah Tsemel?”

“No…” I said, though her name sounded like an Israeli name.

“She was the lawyer who represented my father in court. She is a hero, because though she is one of you, she knows that what you are doing is wrong.”

Well, I think, at least there is one Israeli whom Amal sees as human.

I look at my feet, I can’t stand looking at Amal’s eyes anymore. What went wrong? I was sure that if I’d listen, then we could somehow grow closer.

“I…” I began saying.

Shayaan looked at me with a hopeful look.

“I am sorry for your pain. But I am telling you,” I straightened up, “that I have pain too, and not all of it comes from this,” I pointed at the Holocaust photos, “but also from violence and hatred coming from your side. What I hope for,” I said, trying to calm down, “is that you could see my pain, and that I could see your pain, and hopefully you and I will not take a part in this cycle…”

Amal looked at me. He seemed… content.

I looked back at him. Was he content that he almost made me cry? Was he content that I finally pointed a finger back at him? What?

“I hope so too,” he said.

I feel my body aching. We’ve been sitting here for a long time, and I am tired.

“Listen, guys,” Shayaan says in his typical tone, “I don’t think we’ll be able to make world peace tonight,” he looks at his watch and smiles, “but I do think we made a lot of progress!”

I smile a humorless smile as I stretch. Amal gets up too. He then stands in front of me as I get up, and says firmly, “I’m happy that we talked.”

I don’t know what to think. At this specific moment I am not particularly happy. But I say, “I’m happy too.”

We all leave the Pearson room and the library building into the cold night. As our paths split, each of us heading toward a different dorm, I am relieved. I breathe the cold humid air of Vancouver Island. We did make some progress, true. But somehow I feel sick to my stomach.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Jonathan Israel

2002-2004

Age 17-18

Being the Israeli student at the college was not the easiest of things. We were altogether 200 students from around the world. Literally, from around the world. Each year only one Israeli student came to this two-year program. Therefore we found ourselves two Israelis, facing 198 students from around the world.

No one knew each other’s family name. We all called one another by our country’s name. Janet was Janet USA; Maria was Maria Costa Rica; Analyn was Analyn Philippines; Nadin was Nadin Maldive Islands.

And I was Jonathan Israel.

I was proud to come from a land of such beauty – a capital of monotheism, a world heritage place, with pilgrims of all religions coming to visit it yearly. I was proud of our high-tech mind, our resourcefulness. I was proud how in just few decades since our independence in 1948 we became an important country, with innovations, brilliant irrigation solutions in a dry climate (we invented irrigation drips), technology (we invented the USB flash drive), programming (we invented many computer programs such well as the Babylon translation software), as well as physical exercise innovations (Feldenkrais…).

I was proud.

But after hearing negative things being said of Israel on a daily basis, it was… hard.

The second year was more difficult. Maya, the older Israeli student who came one year before me, graduated. She always knew what to do and say. Then, in my second year, all of a sudden I was the senior Israeli student, with a kind and sensitive Israeli girl called Hadassah as my junior.

Hadassah looked up to me to help her manage the inner politics in the college. And I didn’t know who Jonathan should look up to for help.

To make things worse, things back home were getting much bloodier than in my first year at the college.

There were many more Palestinian suicide bombers and subsequent Israeli casualties, as well as many casualties from all kinds of army stuff on the Palestinian side. When I looked at the numbers on the news I was appalled. I also realized that they, the Palestinians, had way more casualties than we had. It made our side look so… not good.

I once passed by the teacher’s room when one of the teacher asked me haphazardly what did I think about Israeli tanks running over innocent people.

“We don’t do that,” I said adamantly. “In fighting, if Palestinian militants fight back, there might be some casualties but…”

“It sure seemed like this Rachel girl was no militant,” the teacher said.

“Which Rachel?”

I hurried to the computer room. It was all over the news.

“Israeli bulldozer kills American protester. The woman, Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Washington, was protesting against house demolition in the Gaza Strip.”

It was devastating to read.

Then, few weeks later Israeli army killed Palestinian Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin. He was targeted from a plain, while in his car. In Israeli websites it said that he was in charge of many terrorist acts and the killings of many Israeli civilians.

The English websites said that he was the spiritual leader of Hamas, that he was old, and that he was in a wheelchair.

To make things worse, that same month Hadassah came to me stunned and speechless, nearly crying. “Jonathan, did you see what they hung up on the bulletin board in the cafeteria?”

“No,” I said.

“Come,” she said and led me there.

There, on the bulletin board, a whole four page article was dominating the board, stating how Israel targeted Hamas Spiritual Leader. The article was devastating, and did not mention anything about his assistance, even if only by incitement, to the killing of many Israeli civilians.

“What should we do?” Hadassah asked me. In her eyes I saw that she was looking for the smart guidance of her older brother to the plight. It was her and me. The only two Israelis on campus.

I didn’t know what to say.

Hadassah nearly cried, “They are portraying us as villains, as cruel animals!”

I didn’t know how to respond.

All I wanted these days was to bring my second and last year to an end peacefully. I wanted no enemies, and I was doing my best to portray Israel as the country I knew it to be: morally just, democratic, peaceful, careful not to harm civilians…

Hadassah looked at me, “Do you think that we should print out a response explaining who he actually was and of his involvement with terror?”

Hadassah looked at me with her big eyes. I was her senior, I should know. I thought of Maya, my senior, what would she have said?

“I think,” I said finally, “that you should totally do it if you feel like doing it.”

“Yeah?” Hadassah said. I tried not to notice the disappointment in her eyes as I said ‘you’ rather than ‘we’.

“Totally,” I said. “It’s your right to post anything. They post these articles, you can post our side as well.”

Hadassah went on to the computer room. I cringed.

At dinner I saw the article Hadassah printed, printed on a single page, pasted below the Palestinian article. At the end of dinner Janet, the American student, asked me if I saw the comment written on that article.

I followed her unwillingly to the bulletin board. There, Hadassah’s article was annotated with hand-writing. I recognized Amal’s signature under his words:

“If you are calling Sheikh Yassin a terrorist,

then I am a terrorist too.”

I bit my tongue.

The following day another handwriting was added below it, this time with Leo, the French student:

“If my roomie is a terrorist,

then I’m a terrorist too!”

That was the day to day life in the college.

However there were the high moments too. Like the time Amal and his junior from Palestine, a girl called Jenin, joined Hadassah and me, and the four of us were to do a one hour long presentation in front of the whole student body and teachers.

Our presentation was difficult to create, as disagreements were constant. I remember sitting, the four of us, in my room until late at night. We already finalized the presentation, decided who will speak of which event on the chronological timeline we created. Now we only wanted to launch our presentation with a few pictures, to get people “in the mood” before we begin.

For that, we opened a shared computer folder, and said that each side will put into this folder 20 photos, portraying their side of the conflict. Hadassah and I chose some photos of Israel, of Jewish refugees who fled the Arab countries following violence after the establishment of Israel. We put some Israeli landscapes of the Galilee and of the Dead Sea…

Tomorrow our lecture was scheduled. Tonight we were supposed to finish the last details. Before dinner Hadassah called me to the computer room. “Did you see their photos?” her eyes were widely opened.

I was shocked. All the 20 photos chosen by Amal and Jenin were… scary. Soldiers pointing rifles. A body of a dead child, smeared with blood, with an Israeli soldier standing next to him, smiling. Pregnant woman at a checkpoint. Young Palestinians facing huge Israeli tanks.

I didn’t know what to do. Our presentation was almost done. This, though, was like a match being lit in a tank of oil.

Hadassah looked at me as we looked through the pictures, in the computer room. She whispered to me in Hebrew, “How could they?”

I could see how tired she was of the last few nights. We both wanted to represent Israel proudly. And we were both sick of trying to make this presentation work.

“I will say something when we all meet tonight,” I reassured her.

Then the four of us gathered in my room. After finishing all the bullet points of the Power Point presentation, and after making sure we could all tolerate what the other side was saying, I said, “Now, as to the photos…”

Amal said, “What about them?”

“I looked at them, and I am afraid that they are too one sided.”

Amal seemed agitated. I could see that he was tired too, and stressed. He, too, saw this as a one time chance to speak in front of the entire student body about the Palestinian plight.

“Jonathan,” Amal said, “what do you mean ‘one sided’? This is why we said that each side should choose 20 photos. We chose ours, you choose yours!”

“But,” I tried to protest, feeling Hadassah’s expectations of me, looking up to me, “it seems, Amal, like some of these photos are… staged… the child on the ground with blood, and the Israeli soldier with the rifle, he doesn’t even look to me like he’s Israeli…”

“He is Israeli!” Amal said, “you need to accept the truth of the situation!”

I sensed how the whole thing was about to blow up. I looked at Jenin, hoping to hear some wisdom from her. She said nothing. So did Hadassah.

I felt like I was the one who kept the whole process sane thus far in the meetings we had. Sane and respectable. But now we were all tired and nervous. For us, to stand and speak in English in front of the whole college was something which was nerve wrecking.

“Alright,” I said, “we’ll revise our photos, to include buses after suicide bombers and stuff like that.”

“Do whatever you think,” Amal said. “We have chosen our photos.”

As we finished the meeting in my room I thought to myself, whose idea was it anyhow to begin the presentation with photos?

Probably mine.

That night Hadassah and I spend few too many hours at the computer room.

“Here,” Hadassah said, “this photo is disgusting!”

I lean over to her computer screen. A bloody scene, including body parts, following a suicide bombing on a bus.

“Good,” I said, feeling sick to my stomach. “Here is what I found.”

I showed her the photos of a Palestinian with the traditional headband, looking through the eyehole of a rifle. Another photo of a café blown in Tel Aviv. I remembered that bombing. Another photo of a Palestinian child, a baby, with a dynamite belt around him, as if to make him a future martyr.

“Wow,” Hadassah said, “that’s horrific. They are so sick…”

We were all so sick to be dedicating our time for trying to show how miserable our side was. I couldn’t wait for the presentation tomorrow to be over. I was afraid, though.

I had a feeling it’s all going to explode.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. “if you can’t agree on that…”

April 2004

Age 18

The presentation was to start at 2:00 PM.

At 1:00 PM the four of us gathered in the lecture hall. Amal and Jenin looked at the photos we’ve chosen. At the sight of the baby with the dynamite-belt Amal burst into a rage, “You can’t put that photo! It’s totally fake! It’s Israeli propaganda!!!”

I wasn’t going to have it. “It’s not fake,” I insisted, “I found the same photo in few Arabic written websites.”

“Oh yeah?” Amal retorted, “Websites that your country creates to make Palestinians seem violent!”

Sandra, an older faculty member who was setting up the projector and the microphones for our presentation, said quietly, “Folks! Chill! If you can’t decide on photos, how will you be able to give the presentation?”

That was not the kind of reasonability I was looking for, not from a faculty member.

I sighed. I couldn’t look at Amal nor at Jenin. Hadassah shook her head and signaled to me with her lips, “Unbelievable.”

Sandra then came to look at the laptop and tried to smile, “So, folks, what’s all the fuss about?”

“This photo!” Amal said, “it’s fake!”

Sandra looked at the photo, and then gave me a sad look, “I think, Jonathan, that you should take it off. I do think I watched something about this photo being staged.”

“Well,” I said, “if so, we should also take this photo out!” as I triumphantly showed the dead Palestinian child with the Israeli soldier seeming pleased next to it.

There was a moment of silence. Amal and I, Jenin and Hadassah, all looked at Sandra to hear her verdict. “It’s up to you guys,” she said, “but I say that if there is any chance that it might be staged, then you should take it off too. You should try to stick to the truth.”

With that being said, Sandra left us and went over to set up the microphones.

Amal sighed, “Take it off if you insist.”

I saw how he glanced and smiled at Jenin.

I didn’t care about their stupid smile. Something in this small victory, and the way it made me look in Hadassah’s eyes, made me feel better.

Though somewhere inside I felt… rotten. Like this whole process was not worth it.

Yet, to my amazement, the presentation actually went… well.

Our teacher, Brooke, introduced us. “This will be interesting…” she said, “let’s give a warm welcome to these four brave people, for putting together the following presentation for us about the conflict in their country…!”

I felt my heart beating fast. I was so afraid we’ll screw up. That someone will go way off script…

Yet with all the rehearsals and meetings that we had, everything actually was… smooth.

Usually these kind of presentations at the college lasted about an hour, including few minutes for Q and A. However, our Q and A lasted way into an hour and a half, with people still raising their hands, eager to ask us questions:

“This question is for Amal and Jonathan – can you tell how the conflict affected you personally?”

“Hadassah and Jenin, do you see any particular role for women in the conflict or in bringing peace?”

“How do you personally take part in not perpetuating the conflict?”

This last question opened my heart, and when all the other three answered, I shared my experiences at the art camp weekend, at Sadaka-Reut, learning Arabic…

Then there was another question: “Are there projects you can tell about that foster peace between the people rather than war?”

I shared how I read about the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace, and how inspiring it was to see photos of a Palestinian mother and an Israeli mother, both having lost their sons to the conflict, hug one another. I also shared how I found online this institution called PRIMEPeace Research Institution for the Middle East, who brought together history teachers from both sides to write a textbook that portrayed the narratives of both sides of the conflict.

“It will be easier,” I said and smiled, “to make peace if each side will be forced to learn of the other side, a little like the four of us were forced to do it here…”

I guess the way I said it, along with the four of us looking rather tired, was amusing to watch, as people laughed.

The final question asked was “Do you think the conflict is ever going to be resolved?”

I was surprised to see all of us agreeing on that. Amal’s words were poignant. “If we can sit here on the same stage and give a lecture together, then I think it can end.”

When my turn came, I said, “I am sure it will end. All conflicts end eventually. Northern Ireland,” I said, and looked at Alannah who told me about growing up with the conflict in her country, “Germany and France,” I said, and spotted Katharina from Germany who told me about the disputed territories of Alsace and Lauren, “South Africa,” I said and looked at the many African students in the audience. “It is not a question of if it will end,” I said, “it is a question of when will it end, and I feel like we are all committed to doing our part in bringing forth peace.”

“With that,” our teacher Brooke intervened, “I think we will bring this session to a close, but I just want to add,” she said, and looked at us, “that I was not sure how this lecture was going to go… When Jonathan came to me and asked me to allow him and Hadassah and Amal and Jenin to do a presentation together I was a little apprehensive, as I didn’t know if it could work…”

I felt eyes staring at me, and felt my cheeks burning. Was it really me that asked her to do this presentation in the first place?

“But I saw,” Brooke continued, “how over the past few weeks you took it, all of you, very seriously. I think that the fact that you were able to all stand on the same stage and to share your stories, your pain and your hopes together, that is an example for all of us of maturity, of courage. It gives me hope… Thank you all!”

Then the students began clapping, shouting and howling, and many began standing. I saw how the whole audience was standing and applauding. We stood up too. I looked at the face of Amal who always seemed so remote and distant from whatever was happening. Now he was… glowing, smiling, looking proud. Hadassah and Jenin were holding each other’s hands. This couldn’t not touch me… The applause, my friends, my teachers, the faculty. At moments like this I felt that it was right to be here, at Pearson, so far away from home.

Moments like this washed away moments of anguish, like the time I came into the room of Christopher, my friend from Austria, to return the book I borrowed from him. He was roommates with Abed, the student from Lebanon. When I entered the room I saw some eight students sitting and laughing, talking in Arabic. There were Amal and Shayaan, as well as the students from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, as well as Abed, the Lebanese guy who shared this room with Christopher from Austria. When they saw me entering they stopped laughing, and were silent.

“Is…” I asked, “Christopher here?”

“No.” Abed said.

“I’ll just put this book on his desk, then.”

I walked towards Christopher’s desk, put his book on the table and wrote him a quick ‘Thank you’ note. All the while the room was silent. All the eight guys. Silence as I go out, silence as I close the door behind me.

Then I hear a huge laughter from behind the door.

Now, on the stage, feeling how we touched everyone, I felt that it was OK to only have one other person who speaks my language on campus. I felt that it was OK that on our Yom Kippur fast It was me and Hadassah breaking the fast, alone in the cafeteria at night, whereas when my Muslim friends broke the Ramadan fast they threw a little celebration each night.

This moment on stage washed away the interrogative questions, such as from Immanuel from Columbia, who asked me to explain to him what exactly happened in the Six-Day War. I explained that it happened in reaction to the mobilization of Egyptian forces along the Israeli border, that we then launched a series of preemptive airstrikes, which became a war as Syria and Jordan launched attacks simultaneously on Israel. Immanuel smiled and said, “Uh… But why did you start the war?”

“It was preemptive,” I explained, “in order to defend Israel before three whole armies would attack it, like what happened in 1948, and then in 1973.”

Immanuel smiled what felt like a condescending smile and said, “But you started.” And I felt defeated, criticized, and loathed. I wished that Israel would have not initiated the war, preemptive or not, just to spare me the agony of trying to explain its military policies.

This moment now on stage with the Palestinian students washed away the awkwardness when I learnt that Fatima, the Egyptian girl, was planning to choreograph an Arab dance called Dabke for the Asian Countries National Day Performance. I had actually danced Dabke at home, and was among the most well-coordinated guys on campus.

Yet when I approached Fatima asking if I could join the dance, she said they were already full.

Then I saw that they were still searching for male dancers to join. When I asked Fatima about it, she gave some lame explanation and looked away. Only due to Shayaan’s involvement I was finally invited to join the dance. I think I was for them a bone in the throat, as all the other dancers were either Arab or their Latin American friends. I tried not to care, and came to all of the rehearsals, and then performed it with enthusiasm on the stage… But I could not ignore the awkward vibe.

This moment on stage washed away the moment I was attacked by Hanin, a girl from Canada whose parents were from Lebanon, when the teacher in our Theory of Knowledge class talked about religions sometimes being the drive for war. Hanin said that the war on Iraq, happening just that year, had nothing to do with religion, but with oil and American interests only. When I said that many of the masses were indeed moved by religion, as could be seen on Fridays when violence erupts when Muslims leave the mosques after being given a sermon about resistance, Hanin blew up. “You know nothing about Islam! And your war is one of pure colonialism and exploitation!”

I was shocked, and didn’t know what to say. The teacher said, “Well, let’s move on then…”

I couldn’t look at Hanin in the eyes for months.

This moment here on stage, seeing Amal, who I never saw crying, with his eyes now watering, as I feel my own eyes watering as well, was why I travelled half the world, said goodbye to my family, friends and budding theatre and TV career. It was for this moment that I came here. It was for this moment that I bit my tongue so many times trying to create a positive human interaction and not accept our inability to communicate and our animosity as a fact. These kinds of moments were pure gold for me, and kept me going.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Leaving the College

June 30^th^ 2004

Age 18

I am trying to hide in the art room. This whole night has been way too emotional for me. I look at the dark night through the big windows, at the docks… This art room was always my refuge. I spent here more time than in any other room, except for my own. Now I came here alone, to breathe.

Today was the last day. In few hours, early morning, vans will begin driving us students to the airport, where we will catch flights to so many countries around the world.

This night no one was going to sleep, and the cafeteria remained open throughout the night. People were writing warm words to each other on each person’s copy of the yearbook. People were hugging and crying.

I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Oh, here you are!” I heard Maria’s cheerful voice. Maria, the student from Costa Rica, was among my closest friends. Always brutally honest, always hilariously funny. Now too I heard her loud laughter, “Why of course you are! I looked around the cafeteria, and when I couldn’t find you I told myself, this bastard, he is in the art room!”

I smiled a grim smile, and dragged a chair for her to sit next to me.

“So…?” she said, “Too much, eh?”

“Yep.” I said.

“That’s good!”

I looked at her, not understanding.

“That’s good! Imagine you would be happy to leave, happy to say goodbye, thinking ‘These damn people, screw them!’”

“Yeah…” I said, not convinced.

“It means, stupid,” Maria said, “that they are dear to you! You should be in the cafeteria saying goodbye!”

“You should too!” I said.

Maria laughed, “No, it’s too much for me too! All these emotions and crap, yuck!”

I smiled. I will miss Maria as well. Too much.

Maria looked at me, worried, “Did you hear anything…?”

From her look I knew what she was talking about. Over the past three months I’ve been corresponding and calling the Israeli Defense Force. The subject of the army has been one of the dreariest things that loomed over me during my second year in the college. As everyone else was applying to colleges and universities across North America and Europe, I was the only student, the freaking only student, to have to go home.

No, there was Christopher, the Austrian student, also had to do civilian service in Austria for nine months. I was bound for 36 long months, three years of military service in an army in which I no longer believed wholeheartedly.

“No news?” Maria asked again.

Over this last year my mind kept going back and forth. I thought of joining the few who refused to do military service. It wasn’t the jail that intimidated me… It was mostly the fear that I will never feel a part of Israeli society. You see, everyone – everyone – goes to the army in Israel, that is, all the Jews. Men join for three years and women for two years. My older brother went. My older sister went. Everyone goes to the army.

I knew that if I chose to refuse to join, I can forget all of my political aspirations. I could never become a leader in mainstream politics.

Jenin could not believe. “Jonathan,” she said, “You?”

I didn’t know what to say. Jenin and I were good friends, especially during the last months, after the presentation together.

“Jonathan,” she almost cried, “you will be that soldier, in the checkpoint, passing or denying me and my mother from crossing? With all the other inhumane soldiers?”

“I…” I said painfully, “I will try and do things better. I will try to change the army from within. Even in a checkpoint you want to have humane and just soldiers.”

“There is no such thing!” Jenin insisted, “The moment you wear that green uniform you agree with everything that your army does!”

I tried to convince her, to explain to her. I tried my best. “Jenin, I cannot evade the army and expect to be able to lead my people or to bring to any real change,” I said.

Nothing helped.

Yet, out of the blue, few days ago, after we had another argument about me joining the army, Jenin knocked on my room’s door. I was surprised to see her. She seemed… like she was just crying.

“Jenin?” I said.

“I just wanted to let you know, Jonathan, that I understand.”

“Understand what?”

“If you need to go to the occupation army. I understand.”

I looked at her… What?

“I spoke to my father on the phone,” Jenin said.

Like Amal, Jenin’s father also sat in Israeli prison for some years. Once she told me that he explained to her that not all Israeli people are bad. Some prison guards were kind, he said. Some used to give cigarettes every now and then. And they didn’t really like their job. They didn’t want to humiliate the prisoners.

“You…” I said, “What did he say?”

“He said that if he were you, in your position, he would join the army.”

“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“He said that if you want to influence your people and open their eyes, you cannot not go to the army. That it is a taboo, he said. That you must go.”

I kept silent, just thinking, wow…

Jenin’s eyes were filling now with tears, “That’s all I wanted to tell you!” She covered her face with her hands, “That I understand! I disagree! but I understand!”

And she left the room in a storm. I came out to run after her, but she was gone.

I dedicated hours each day to research online the different possibilities for me to go to in the army. The most promising program was called the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. This program meant that I will go first to a university for three years, get a BA in a subject the army saw fit, and then serve as an officer in the army for six years. Though it sounded way too long, nine years program altogether, it slowly grew on me. I thought that through this program I will able to have the most influence in the army, and was intrigued when I saw that among the BA subjects in demand for this program was Political Science and Islamic Studies.

“—Jonathan?” Maria’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Oh,” I said, “no, I haven’t heard anything from them yet.”

“But wasn’t the time for this Reserve Officers’ program to let you know if you got accepted or not last week?”

“Yes,” I said, appreciating the fact she remembered the name of the program.

“And you are not… worried?” Maria pressed.

“I am, a little bit.”

Truth was that I was terrified. In two days I would land in Israel. My actual recruitment date was originally a year ago, before I postponed the army service in order to finish my second year abroad. Technically speaking, the army can arrest me upon landing and send me straight to basic training. Basic training for a combat unit, which was my greatest fear.

If so, I thought, I will have to refuse. I didn’t want to shoot anyone.

“And Rebecca?” Maria asked softly.

Rebecca is my girlfriend. A year ago on spring break I stayed with a Jewish family that lived not too far away from the college. The mother, Chava, a recent widow, spoiled me with much food and care. Her only daughter, Rebecca, was a brilliant person. As we were both the same age, things slowly developed into a romance. Rebecca supported me and encouraged me throughout my second year in college, and visiting her over the weekends was something I looked forward to all the time.

Of all people Rebecca was most distressed about me having to go back to Israel and join the army. Our relationship was very strong, and during the summer between my first and second year she visited and bonded with my family. Understanding that I didn’t have any other option but to join the army, Rebecca wanted to come with me back to Israel. We both envisioned that if I join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, we could go to university together. Then, after I would become an officer, I could get an army post that would enable me to come back home each evening. We were very serious about our relationship.

“Rebecca is fine,” I told Maria. “We both know that everything will turn out well.” (‘Liar!’ I thought. ‘You both are stressed as hell!’)

Trying to change topics I asked, “How about you?”

“Oh, I’m good. I’m Happy it’s over.”

“You are?!”

“Yes,” Maria said, “enough with all this crying! Life is good. This is not the end of the world!”

Though for many of us it felt as if it was. The end. Of the world.

“Let’s go back to the cafeteria,” I said.

Maria and I slowly made our way up the trail from the art building to the cafeteria.

It was 3 AM. And everyone was there.

“Jonathan!” Nadin from the Maldive Islands grabbed my hands, “I wanted to thank you for all of your encouragement during these two years,” she said with her chocolate eyes glowing, “you’ve been such an inspiration for me to stand up for what I believe in!”

Wow… I muttered, “Nadin!” and hugged her, saying, “you were the same for me!”

Soon I realized that the whole cafeteria was gushing with these one on one confessions of love. Therefore I was quite alarmed when Amal came to me, grabbing my two hands.

“Jonathan,” he said, and I could see in his eyes that he was a bit… tipsy? “I want to let you know I appreciate you, your truth, your struggle for peace!”

What the heck, I thought, as my eyes began watering.

Amal continued, “Seriously, I remember when I came to your lecture on that first Peace Day. I was moved by your ability to explain both sides!”

I remember this lecture clearly. At the end of the first year we had a special Peace Day in the college. Here I was, getting ready to give an explanation of the conflict, drawing maps in advance on the blackboard, before the classroom became full with students. I saw Amal coming as well with his roommate Leo. I was hoping I could pull it together without any conflict. I tried my best to give a thorough explanation and answer people’s questions well. I constantly said, “Well, Israelis would say that…” and then, “Palestinians however would say that…”

That lecture was a result of that whole year, constantly reading about the conflict in the computer room and in the library, trying to make sense of it all. Years of political unawareness and cluelessness were replaced with facts and figures. I wanted to know it all, understand it all. What actually happened in 1948? What actually happened in 1967? In 1973? In 1990? In 1993? And where can you place the beginning of the conflict? In the 1929 Palestine riots? Or in the Jaffa riots of 1921? Or before the British mandate, when Jews began trickling from Europe and Yemen in the 1882 First Jewish Return? Or should one draw it back to the time of Prophet Muhammad and the failed political alliances between the Muslim and Jewish communities? I kept trying to illuminate the darkness of my ignorance.

When I gave that lecture I tried my very best to capture the situation from both sides. Oddly enough Amal did not say anything, though I probed him to correct me. The next day I heard at lunch from Janet that Amal said in Spanish class that he was pleased with how I was able to portray the situation in such a balanced way. Hearing it from Janet was a victory for me. But do I really get to hear that from Amal himself?

Amal tightened his grip on my hands, saying, “Seriously, I think it takes a big man, Jonathan, a big man, to be able to tell a situation from both points of view, even if it is against everything you learn at home!”

“Amal!” I exclaimed.

We hugged. “I…” I tried to say, “I really respect your honesty and your courage, Amal. I enjoyed working with you on our presentation together! I can’t believe we were able to pull it together!”

We both laughed. I knew of Amal’s great aspirations in photography. “Man,” I said, “you will go far in life, and your photos will be in the greatest museums!”

Less than two years before he wasn’t interested in speaking to me. I remembered that van ride, during the first week. “I don’t like any Israeli leader, any Israeli at all!”

Now we were embracing.

A few hours later the vans began taking the first students to the airport. Many tears were shed in the parking lot, as each van left.

By the afternoon only a few vans were left.

“When is your van leaving?” Janet asked me.

“I’m not leaving in a van,” I explained, “Chava and Rebecca are picking me up, and then Rebecca and I fly to Israel tomorrow.”

I was amongst the last people to leave. I hugged Rebecca firmly when she and Chava came. “Get me out of here!” I said, “I don’t want to shed even one more tear!”

As Chava drove us away in that winding road amidst huge trees, I looked at the giant Douglas fir trees and cedar trees. Soon, I thought, I will be in a place where no raccoons will be wandering around, and where the water will never have a head of a sea lion or a seal popping up. Farewell, I thought, big trees, beautiful docks, cafeteria, classrooms, the art room, the dorms… everything was to remain behind. What will be of me? How will I, gentle Jonathan, be able to cope with the army? And why haven’t they contacted me from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp? I held tightly to Rebecca’s hand, and couldn’t stop myself from crying.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Wearing Green

February 6^th^ 2005

Age 19

I look at the mirror.

My head was shaven. My blood was taken. I was given shots of vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Meningitis, and Hepatitis A. I was given a personal army number: 7430110. This number was minted onto a piece of metal, called my “dog-tag” – the identification tag to be always placed on me. I was told it is to be used for the identification of dead soldiers’ bodies. I was given black army boots. I was given a large duffel bag. Three army shirts. Three army pants. One big army winter coat. Nine green pairs of underwear. Three t-shirts. One green army beret. Nine wool socks. Nine regular socks. Small first aid sterile dressing to be carried in a small pocket in the pants, near the left knee, not to be removed.

Finally, I was given a document to be carried at all time. A tiny booklet. “That,” the soldier told me, “in case of being taken hostage or kidnapped.”

It had my blood information, my vaccines, my birthdate, full name, father’s name and identification number. The cover had the army’s logo and inscriptions in Hebrew and French. When I asked one of the guys in line why was the writing in French and not, say, in English, he said that “That’s the language POWs.”

“What’s POWs?” I asked.

“Prisoners of War,” he said matter of factly.

I felt as if I was indeed becoming a prisoner of war, a prisoner of hatred, a prisoner of fear in the Middle East.

The writing on the small booklet was in French:

ARMÉE DE DÉFENCE D’ISRAEL

CARTE D’IDENTITÉ

(art. 17 Conventino de Geneve relative
au traitment des prisonniers de guerre
du 12 Aout 1949)

I could understand that the Geneva Convention had something to do with… protecting me? Was it supposed to make me feel better? It made me feel… nauseous .

What was I doing here? According to all my plans I was supposed to be now in university.

It is February 6th, 2005.

Eight months ago I landed in Israel with Rebecca. I contacted the army several times, went through an intensive day of selection and placement process for the Reserve Officer Training Corp. I was assured that due to my high grades there should not be any problem. I registered to university, and began, five months ago, to study political science and Islamic Studies in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University.

Rebecca was enrolled there too, at the preparatory program of the university, learning mostly Hebrew.

Few months after we landed, Chava, Rebecca’s mom, joined us in Israel after selling their house in Canada and resigning from her job. Everything was picture perfect: we rented a house in a green area not too far away from Jerusalem. I enjoyed university very much. When everyone complained at the English papers we needed to read, I found it pretty easy – I just finished two years of intensive studies in English, graduating with the International Baccalaureate. From being the worst in English around me in high school, I was now one of the best. Islamic studies were fascinating. So was political. I felt at home. Everything was perfect until that call.

“Jonathan Kis-Lev?” I heard the clerk from the other side of the line. I was running from one class to another, and couldn’t hear her very well on my cellphone.

“Yes?” I say.

“I’m calling from the Reserve Officer Training Corp in the army, from the Placement Department.”

“Yes?” I asked eagerly.

“I’m calling to inform you that allocations have been changed and that your enrollment in the Corp has been terminated.”

“I… what?”

The clerk repeated her words, “I’m calling to inform you that allocations have been changed and that your enrollment has been terminated.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked in horror.

“That you are no longer a part of the program,” she said, “you are reassigned for recruitment this coming February.”

“But, that’s in two months!” I exclaimed, “I’m already enrolled in university! I’m now running to a class, Islamic studies, you approved my program!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Is there…” I began to breathe heavily, “Who should I contact, to appeal? To reconsider?”

“You can write to us at the same address you sent us all the applications to, but I’m afraid that it is final.”

I wanted to continue talking, never hanging up, never having to deal with the implications of her words. “But…” I said, “can you at least explain to me why?”

“I don’t know, sometimes allocations change according to the army’s needs.”

“But… I can study something else, anything,” I said desperately, “any other subject the army has a need for…?”

“You can appeal, but I’m afraid that it is final. Have a good day!” the clerk said and hung up.

I repeated her last words, “Have a good day.”

This is NOT a good day.

I wanted to curse, I wanted to scream. I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

Students were passing by, hurrying. I was hurrying too. Should I hurry back? What’s the use? Is this… real? Is this really real?

I called Rebecca. I think I must have cried. It’s all a blur. She said I can appeal, and that everything will work out well. Don’t worry.

But I worried.

Over the ensuing two months I did all I could to speak to the army, make them reconsider my participation in the program. Yet no one really responded. I called, I sent letters. There was no office to go to. I faxed, I called. “We’re sorry,” I was told.

“Can you,” I asked, “at least postpone my recruitment date, so that I can finish my first year of university?”

“—Well, you can request that in writing. And attach a recommendation letter from a teacher.”

I sent letters again and again.

The letter was quick to come: “Request denied. Recruitment Date: February 6th 2005”.

These were miserable days. Winter in Jerusalem. Rebecca was distressed. I was distressed. I was unable to concentrate in classes. What’s the use?

Chava suggested that we all move to Tel Aviv. We moved February 1st. On February 5th, with few boxes still unpacked, I packed my bag.

We left in the early morning, as Chava drove us to the Reception and Sorting Base, an hour away from Tel Aviv. My parents came there too.

We all sat in the large cement courtyard among many families with their sons. My mother’s eyes watered. She went through this twice already with my older brother and sister. In half a year my young sister was to join as well – she will turn 18. Funny, I thought, she will finish before me – girls had to do two years only, and that will mean that she will be recruited after me, and released before me. Great.

As each name appeared on the big television screen, people moved around, hugging, kissing, exclaiming good wishes. Tears. Mothers crying. Some fathers too.

I sat and held Rebecca’s hands. She was terrified. I was worried for her.

Then my name appeared on the screen.

My father groaned, my mother tried to smile. Chava shook her head. And Rebecca, my sweet Rebecca, wailed and howled in my arms. Two days ago she helped me trim my long hair. She began crying so hard that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I had to ask my older brother to shave my head for me.

Now, Rebecca was shaking in my arms. I felt her tears on my shoulder.

Chava rubbed her hand on Rebecca’s back, “Now, now…”

Were people looking? I didn’t care. We were together in this. Rebecca came to this country for me, for us. And now I am going. When will I be back? I knew nothing of where they’ll station me. Nothing. Will I have to refuse? Will I have to sit in jail? What was the future holding in store for us?

“Come here sweetie,” Chava said, and began embracing Rebecca, gently letting me out of the embrace. My eyes filled with tears, I took my bag, seeing Rebecca shaking and trembling in Chava’s embrace. I kissed my mother, kissed my father, kissed Chava, kissed Rebecca on her head. She flew into me for one last hug. Strong, brave hug. I heard her whispering in my ear, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I whispered, “It will all be fine.”

Rebecca nodded, her face red with tears.

I took my big bag, headed to the gate, and climbed on the bus. It took a moment for it to leave, and I waved at the four sad faces through the window. Then the bus began moving, and Rebecca cried into Chava’s embrace. I could not hear her, but I just saw her body shaking.

I couldn’t look.

Now I’m in the Reception and Sorting Base, in this big dressing room. Guys next to me on the right and on the left are putting their army boots on. I am done. My beret is tucked on my shoulder. My army shirt is fully buttoned, tucked into my pants. Green belt. Green pants. Black boots. I feel the metal chain on my neck, with the cold dog tag touching my chest. In the mirror across the room I can see him.

A soldier.

Me.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Soldier?

February 6^th^ 2005

Age 19

“Bubu, how are you?” Rebecca asked me when I finally was able to call.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. I miss you…!” I said.

I told her about the day. The vaccinations (I hated it!). The heavy duffel bag (so heavy). The army base at night (many soldiers, of whom I know none). Tomorrow I will to be taken to a basic training camp up north.

We speak for few minutes. Rebecca is appalled to hear I’ll be spending the night in a tent. “Just make sure you dress warm, hon.”

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. Good night.”

“Good night.”

At night, laying on the folding mattress, hearing the wind bumping on the tent, I think of the day. More than all I think about my conversation with the Placement Officer.

I entered his room in the afternoon when my turn came. He barely looked at me, staring at his computer.

“Jonathan, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Any preferences?”

“Well, I was on route to become a Reserve Officer in the Training Corps. I began studying political science and Islamic—”

“—And…?”

“And…?” I asked, bewildered.

“Why are you not there now?”

“I was told allocations were changed.”

He looked at his computer screen. “I see.”

I continued, “I studied abroad, I have many Palestinian friends, and I even thought of refusing to serve.”

This was the first time the Officer raised his eyes to look at me.

“But then,” I hurried to continue, “I thought that I could change things from the inside.”

The Officer looks at me. I think he is tired.

“Alright,” he said, “I will see what I can do. Anything else?”

“I have a good English.”

“I assumed that given that you studied abroad,” the Officer said. “Well, good luck.”

“I…” I hesitated, not wanting to create antagonism, “I would not be willing to fight in any combat unit.”

“You will not,” he said, “you were recruited on a general recruitment, not a combat one.”

“And…” I add, “I would not like to serve in the Territories,” I said.

The Officer looked at me. “Well, good luck!”

Only when I got up and exited the room, I realized that his decision where I’m stationed, will shape my next three years.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Basic Training

February-March 2005

Age 19

Basic training camp is remembered for me as a mix of a frightening, fearful experience, mixed with many funny moments.

My troop in basic training was made of all nerds. We all achieved high grades in the army’s computerized IQ test. We knew a lot.

What we didn’t know was how to run, how to do push ups or sit ups, or simply… how to be soldiers. We were panting like crazy, and our commanders were “Appalled by you losers!”

Four days into the training we were taken to the weaponry. I came to my commander and told her that I didn’t want to shoot a weapon. She said that I had no other option, and that I could refuse and sit in jail.

When I didn’t show fear, she tried a different tactic. “Listen, private Jonathan,” she said, “this is just for self defense. When you go out there to the world, wearing green uniforms, you are more of a target than a civilian.”

I understood what she was saying, but I didn’t want to use a weapon.

Seeing that I didn’t flinch she added, “More importantly, your whole troop is to be assigned for different office positions and clerical jobs. When you are out of here, you won’t need to carry weapon in your whole service. If you refuse, however, this will not enable you to finish with the recommendations you need in order to be placed in a good place, you see?”

I saw.

What she said made sense. If it’s only for this month, and then never again…?

Seeing all my new nerdy friends receiving their weapons I decided not to make a fuss. “Alright,” I said.

I received a long black M-16. It was heavy. I held it in my hand.

I. Held. A weapon. In. My. Hand.

A weapon.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. i. carry. a. weapon.

February-March 2005

Age 19

We learned to take it apart and clean it. We were given limited time to dismantle it and reassemble it. Over the next three weeks we were shown the most intricate parts of it, many, many small parts. We cleaned it. We oiled it. We shined it.

It felt wrong.

In retrospect perhaps I should have fought more not to receive a weapon. But I didn’t see anyone who didn’t receive one. And I still wanted to serve. There was a real genuine place within me that wanted to be in the army – to become a part of Israeli society – to be able to have those common experiences everyone talked about.

In my first and only semester in the Hebrew University, which ended just a few weeks earlier, I saw how much the army was an intricate part of my society. One of the first questions I was asked by fellow students was “And where did you serve?” Not “Did you serve?” but “Where did you serve?”

When I answered that I am in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp, I was told in excitement, “You should ask to be stationed in the paratroopers!” or “There’s no place in the army as good as the Northern Battalion!” or “The Intelligence Unit is what makes the army tick, ask to go there when you become an officer, you won’t regret it!”

I also noted that much army slang was used that I didn’t understand. In Islamic studies we learned of the successors of Prophet Muhammad. As the teacher explained the concept of seniority based on how early one joined Muhammad’s new religion, another student sitting near me winked at me, “It’s like Senio.”

“What?” I asked.

“It’s like Senio!” he smiled.

I smiled back. I didn’t want to look as if I didn’t know what that word meant.

Later I searched online what “Senio” means.

“Senio – military slang, abbreviation of ‘seniority’, used to denote whether a soldier should be given specific rights or not according to the length of service he has completed up to a given date.”

I understood. Yes, the concept of seniority in Islam was indeed similar to the concept of seniority in the army. How was I supposed to understand what “senio” meant?

It might have been the fact I lived abroad, giving me a fresh outlook on Israeli society. It might have been the fact I just grew up and was more aware of things. Regardless of why it was, I now understood that the army was embedded in every aspect of our society. It was a part of our culture.

My mother always spoke in sorrow of not having the opportunity to serve in the army. She wanted to serve, but as an immigrant who barely spoke Hebrew, a married woman, the army did not approve her application. My father was recruited, though. My mother always said that she is sorry for not having an opportunity to serve, as she does not feel wholly a part of the society. All women at her age served. She assumed that serving would have made her more “Israeli”, more “from here” than a foreigner, an immigrant.

It is hard for me to write these lines, as I see that someone foreign to Israeli society might think that we are crazy. That you, the reader, might think that we are nuts; that we are innately violent; that we are simply militaristic.

Are we? When children are born one of the most common wishes is ‘May by the time this baby grows up there’ll be no need for an army!”

When I was in kindergarten I clearly remember aunts and uncles stating, “May one day when you grow up to be a man, you won’t have to serve at all!”

When I was nine a new song was released to the radio. These were the days of the Oslo Accords, peace negotiations and agreements between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Our Prime Minister even shook ‘their’ hands in America! It seemed like peace was coming.

At the same time, for the first time I began seeing on the news bombings against Israelis, like me. In buses, in restaurants… When I was eight I watched a bus suicide bombing aftermath on TV. How was this a sign of the peace coming? I couldn’t understand.

At nine years old this song was first played in the radio. It was sang by a group of teens, no, young adults. They were wearing army uniforms, and they were singing a song to their parents. I listened intently and was moved when they sang “You promised us a dove, an olive tree leaf…. You promised us peace…”

These singers were children born in the winter of 1973.

That year is a year etched in Israeli history as possibly the biggest collective trauma. The Yom Kippur war was Israel’s bloodiest war, as Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria, with expeditionary forces from Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco.

In this popular song, children who were born after that war, say to their own parents:

We are the children of winter 1973

You dreamt us first at dawn, as the battles subsided

You were tired men who were grateful for their fortune to still be alive

You were young women, so worried, and all you wanted was to love

And when you conceived us with love in that 1973 winter

You wanted to fill with your body the void which was created, by all that the war took away

When we were born the country was wounded and morose

You looked at us, you hugged us, you tried to find in us some comfort

When we were born, all the elders blessed us, tears in their eyes

They said: “May these children not have to go to the army!”

And in those old photographs from back then your faces are a proof

That you meant it from the bottom of your hearts as you promised

To do everything for us so that an enemy could become a friend instead.

You promised us a dove, an olive tree leaf,

You promised us peace at home

You promised us spring and blossoms

You promised to fulfill your promises!

We are the children of that 1973 winter

We grew up, now we ourselves are in the army,

Weapon in hand, helmet on head

Now we too know very well how to make love,

We know too of laughing, as well as of crying

We, too, are men; we, too, are women

We, too, dream of future babies…

Therefore we will not pressure you,

Therefore we will not demand of you,

Therefore we will not threaten you –

Yet when we were toddlers you said that promises – must be fulfilled!

This song was played in the radio a lot. The poet told on the radio of how it represented a dialogue between the generation of parents and the generation of children now joining the army. He himself was a son of Holocaust survivors from Poland. He said it represented the generation of his children, and what he and his own generation promised to them.

I liked this song. I liked the chorus: “You promised us a dove, an olive tree leaf… You promised us peace at home…”

Was peace coming? The Prime Minister was soon after assassinated. More suicide bombings were filling the TV screen. Peace seemed further and further away each year. I was ten, eleven. I turned twelve, had my Bar Mitzvah coming of age ceremony at thirteen. Girlfriend. Fourteen. Fifteen, back and forth from school to the theatre. Sixteen, flying abroad. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen.

Now I’m running in basic training, even though this blister in my left foot is killing me. I’m running. I feel the helmet bumping on my head, feeling the weapon rattling in my hand, wearing the heavy military vest with three full bullet cases and two water canteens, filled to the top. I run, we all run, our commander, shouts at us to run faster. I sing to myself in my head my own version:

“We are the children of that 1985 winter

We grew up, now we ourselves are in the army,

Weapon in hand, helmet on head…”

I feel the sweat pouring down my back, my forehead, into my eyes. It is salty, it burns -

“When we were born, all the elders blessed us, tears in their eyes,

They said: “May these children not have to go to the army!”

I feel this damn blister killing me. In my head I scream:

“Yet when we were toddlers you said that promises – promises – promises… must be fulfilled!”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. What’s a Massacre?

March 1994

Age 8

“Dad, what’s a massacre?”

My dad takes his eyes off for a second from the road, and looks at my eight years old face. He seems bewildered. He keeps driving. “What…? Jonathan… where did you hear that word?”

“They said it on TV a lot, I heard, you were watching.”

My father, like all adults, listens to the radio and watches the news constantly. He never sits down to watch it, he always stands. I always tell him, “Dad, sit down!” but he never does.

“They said it on TV?” my dad asks.

I nod.

My dad all of a sudden becomes serious. He is silent. He then sighs a big sigh.

I am beginning to think that I might have done something… wrong? Should I have not asked him about this? But they, the adults, always say that it is good to ask questions! Especially about words I don’t know!

“Jon,” my dad says and sighs, his eyes set intently on the road. “A massacre is when people kill people.”

“Oh,” I get it, “it’s like a war!”

“No… it is usually not with soldiers against soldiers, it is… with soldiers against people, innocent people.”

“So Arab soldiers killed innocent Jewish people in the Cave of the Patriarchs?” I ask, proud that I can now understand. I already know that Arabs do this kind of stuff all the time. And in the news they kept talking of the ‘m-a-s-s-a-c-r-e at the Cave of the Patriarchs.’

“No…” my dad says, and sighs again.

What’s with all this sighing? I ask, “Dad, are you OK?”

“I’m OK,” my dad says and smiles a sad smile as he glances at me, before his eyes turn back to the road. “What happened there, and I don’t know much,” he says slowly, “is that an Israeli, a Jew, killed Arab people, Muslims, when they were praying.”

My dad now keeps silent as he drives on the winding road from the city of Lod to our village. He seems relieved.

I am not relieved, though! I try to understand: an Israeli. A Jew. Killed. Arab. People. Muslims. When they were praying.

?!?

“Were they…” I ask finally, hoping to be able to make some sense of it, “were they attacking him?”

“I told you!” my dad barks, “They were praying!”

I keep silent. Why is he not nice to me? All I did was to ask a question!

A moment passes. I look through the window, hoping we’ll get back home soon.

“Jon, I’m sorry,” my dad says suddenly. “It’s just that… I don’t know why he did it. This… man… he must have been crazy.” My dad looks at me intently, “one should not do it, kill innocent people, you hear me?”

“Sure, dad.” I say. To myself I think, ‘But, he was Jewish. Was he really Jewish?’

“So,” my dad tries to smile, “tell me how things are at school.”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Yep. It’s me

February 2005

Age 19

The days at basic training passed quickly. I thought I might be given time off after two weeks, but our troop was then assigned to guard the base. Rebecca came with Chava to visit me in this northern military base.

I was allowed to go out of the base for 45 minutes, and was instructed to remain in close proximity.

As I approached the car, Chava opened the door, “Wow, you look like a soldier!”

Rebecca ran out and hugged me, the strongest hug. “I missed you so much!”

“Me too!” I say.

Before long Chava left the car to give the two of us some privacy. She didn’t have much of where to go, but she was thoughtful enough to give us some time alone.

Rebecca and I kissed and hugged. I missed her lips so bad…

It was difficult to make out with the M-16 still on my body. We were instructed never to take the weapon’s strap off of me.

But we managed.

Then Rebecca pulled me away, looked at me with an odd look and said, “You look so different…!”

I tried to convince her that I am the same. Still the same Jonathan! But she told me that I look different.

“I’m still the same!” I insisted and kissed her. We spoke. It was hard for both of us to feel the seconds passing.

Before long the 45 minutes were about to end. Didn’t want to be late and get in trouble. I hugged them both goodbye, kissed Rebecca, and hurried to the gate.

They looked at me as I did the routine we were required to do with the weapon several times a day, to make sure that there are no bullets inside the rifle. I pointed upwards, unlocked the rifle, pressed my finger on the trigger, stretched the charging handle backwards, pressed the trigger again, and locked the rifle. I showed my badge to the soldiers at the gate, and walked inside. As I did I gave a quick glance back at the car. I cringed as I saw Rebecca crying in Chava’s arms.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Shoot!

March 2005

Age 19

I was sitting in front of my troop’s Lieutenant. She was serious and severe. I already gotten used to it. Tomorrow I’ll be finishing my four week basic training course.

“Private Kis-Lev, how would you sum up your basic training?”

How would I sum up the basic training?

I liked the physical stuff, I liked the learning aspect and the things we needed to memorize. My least favorite parts were shooting, as well as guarding at the watch towers at night.

I hated shooting the rifle. It was scary. I kept thinking, ‘What if one of us soldiers has some mental sickness? What if one of us turns around and shoots me?’

We did much training before actually shooting. We learned that we need to always look at the aim. That we need to breathe out while pulling the trigger. We learned about the immediate thrust when the bullet is shot. We went countless of times over the protocol. Everything seemed really secure. But I still worried.

Then it was time.

I looked intently through the hole, looked through my glasses, closed one eye, tried to focus… I locked my eye on the cardboard target at the end of the fire zone. Earplugs in our ears, we all had to shout out the commands as we heard them. I looked intently through the hole, and heard the commander shouting, “Five bullets!”

“Five bullets!” we repeated.

We all screamed, “Ready!”

“Aim!”

We all repeated, “Aim!”

“Shoot!”

“Shoot!”

Around me I began hearing bullets. Really loud. It scared the shit out of me!

I breathed in. ‘Jonathan, Concentrate!’

I looked intently through the hole, aiming at the cardboard figure, breathe in, now breathe out, pull the—

Bang!

My glasses were pushed into my skin. I shook my head quickly to drop them onto my nose again, still holding the long weapon with my two hands. As they landed on my nose, I looked through, and realized the thrust pushed the rifle so close to my eye that it scratched my glasses.

Great.

Yet I kept hearing the bullets firing. I had four more bullets to release. I looked intently through the hole, trying to avoid the blurry grey area created by this damned scratch. Breathe in, breathe out, pull the—

Bang!

Alright, relax, again, look, find the cardboard figure, breathe in, breathe out, pull—

Bang!

Two more to go. Or one? Oh, we’ll see, now, look, find the target, breathe in, breathe out—

Bang!

One last one, I think, find, breathe in, breathe out, pull—

Bang!

Do I have another bullet? I look again, breath in, breath out, pull the trigger— no. No more bullets. Good. That’s it.

I wanted to cry.

I was relieved to hear that others were still shooting. I was afraid I was the only one who was taking so long.

Finally, everyone must have finished.

The commander yelled, “Disarm all weapons!”

We repeated out loud, “Disarm all weapons!”

I disarmed my weapon, and could finally breathe in.

Then we all ran towards the cardboard figures. I arrived at my cardboard figure. I looked for the bullet holes. Two.

The commander passed by each soldier, counting each soldier’s hits. Some hit three, some hit two, some one, some not at all.

The next few days we practiced. We shot at day, we shot at night. We shot five bullets, ten bullets, 25 bullets. We shot lying down, kneeling, standing up. We shot and shot and shot.

I was getting better and better.

It was slow, but I slowly saw how each time I was hitting more bullets, and closer to the center of the cardboard.

Each time the commander passed by our cardboard targets, he called out the number of bullets. I began being among the top ones.

When a fellow soldier asked me during a break if I could give him advice, I said, sure. I told him to go with me through what he does before shooting. Hearing his description I explained to him about the breathing out, and not moving the moment the bullet leaves the rifle, so that it won’t go off track. “Breathe in,” I said, “and don’t think that you are pulling the trigger as you do, think of a continuous movement, that does not end the moment the bullet comes out, but rather continues.”

He thanked me and went away. Later on, at the end of the day, he came to me with a big smile, “It helped, man!” he said.

I smiled a sad smile.

My own hits were getting better and better. The commander passed by my cardboard, counted, and then smiled, “18 out of 20!”

I gave him a nod. I didn’t want to smile back. I didn’t like this shooting thing.

“You’re sniper material!” he said.

“No thank you,” I said.

At the end of the day the commander asked me to come to him. “So, how was today for you?” he asked.

“OK,” I said, “I don’t like shooting.”

“You don’t? You are sure not bad at it!”

“I understand,” I said, “but I don’t like it.”

He looked at me with disappointment and said, “Thank you. Dismissed.”

Guarding at night was worse than shooting. It was two of my most hated feelings: fear mixed with boredom. I hated fear. And I hated boredom.

By the third night I was reading a book in the watch tower with a small flashlight. I hurried to shove it into my coat when an officer would come on their routine inspection patrol. I knew I had at least 30 seconds from the moment I’d hear them in the bottom of the tower climbing up to the moment they would be facing me. So I wore my coat half loose, ready to shove the book inside.

I found it to be craziness to be standing there for three hours doing nothing, not allowed to listen to headphones or anything.

The bad thing was that the book I was reading was “The Da Vinci Code” which just came out two years before. Everyone told me to read it. So I read it.

But reading it at night, when I kept hearing voices from the dark emptiness in the fields beyond the camp… that was not fun. And the book was scary. I didn’t really know who were the bad guys and who were the good guys. Was it the symbologist Robert Langdon? The cryptologist Sophie Neveu? Who murdered her grandfather? And why does the good Leigh Teabing all of a sudden pull a gun?

In the darkness I heard voices constantly. I looked below, at the dark field. I could see nothing, but I felt… like someone was watching me.

Note to self: never read a thriller when guarding.

Now the Lieutenant sits in front of me, for the final interview. She asks me how basic training went, and fills my answers in a report. Her final question is: “How motivated are you, from zero to ten, about the continuation of your serving in the army?

“Well,” I tell her, “that will depend where I will be stationed. If I’m stationed at a post which supports the occupation in the Territories, I would say that I am zero motivated,” I say and look at her looking at me intently, “but if not, I would say that I am very motivated, a ten.”

She says, “Well, this basic training, of mostly soldiers intended for office posts, is not intended for you to end up in the territories, and since I want you to have a fair chance of receiving a good position, I’m marking a ‘ten’ here.”

I do not say anything. I don’t know what this questionnaire is meant for.

The following day a ceremony was held to mark our completion of basic training. At the end of it we each receive a paper from our commander telling us where to show up first thing after the weekend. My paper states: “Coordinator”, and the name of a base in the south.

“Coordinator” – what the heck does that mean? I ask around. No one knows. Did anyone else receive it?

People were given other posts. Positions in the air force, navy, headquarters, computers, technology units… Only one soldier named Zach says he had received “Coordinator”. Zach, too, has no idea as well what it means. Neither do our commanders.

“We’ll find out over the weekend,” we agree. We exchange phone numbers and promise to communicate over the weekend. I am a little worried.

When we all change from our field uniforms to our “service dress” which are the finer, more presentable uniforms to be worn outside military bases, we are excited. Basic training was a mixture of emotions for most of us. Being mostly nerds, we never had so many people yell at us all the time. Yet it was a unique experience. Definitely bonding for all of us. Strong friendships were created in those few weeks together. I am sad to not see many of these faces after the weekend.

At home I start to make phone calls to try and find out what “Coordinator” means. Without success. Rebecca is distressed. “What if this puts you in the Territories,” she asks me at night, “I don’t want you to get killed.”

I look at her eyes in the darkness. “I will refuse, even if that means I will end up in jail. I didn’t join the army to protect the Territories.”

She does not seem relieved.

I wake up in the morning early, to catch the first bus towards the southern base. I hug Rebecca goodbye at the bus station.

I have a sick feeling in my gut. That this Coordinator thing is going to prove to be the worst thing I could hope for.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Coordinator?

March 2005

Age 19

Upon my arrival at the southern base I try to gather some information about this “unit” and to figure out what “Coordinator” means. The soldiers in the office tell me that I will find out everything when the course begins.

“How long is the course?” I ask the army-clerk.

“Five weeks,” the clerk answers.

“But, where will I be placed later?”

The clerk tells me he does not know.

When I press on with questions he eventually relents and tells me he’ll ask the sergeant of the course to come out and speak to me.

After a long while this sergeant comes towards me. I stand up. He seems aloof and disinterested. He tells me I will find out everything when the course begins.

I insist, saying that I need to find out now what the course is about.

He sighs and measures me with his eyes, “We are coordinating between the civilian population in the Territories and the army, as well as governmental ministries and bureaus.”

Oh no, I think to myself. “What does that mean in practice?”

“It means that we have coordination offices in the Territories, as well as the headquarters in Tel Aviv, and that we work mostly on the field, securing all humanitarian and civic affairs of the local population.”

This sounds ambiguous to me. “It means that I will serve in the Territories?” I ask bluntly.

“Most likely.”

I feel my heart beating fast. “But I asked repeatedly not to be placed in the Territories!” I exclaim, “I have a lot to give to the army, I finished basic training with excellence as you can see in my file… But I want to be stationed elsewhere!”

The sergeant stares at me. He stands close to me, I can smell his breath. “Do you mean,” he clenches his jaw, “that you are disobeying order?”

“No,” I said quickly. I knew that ‘disobeying order’ was to lead me straight to jail. I read a book about conscientious objectors, also known as “refuseniks”. While their stories and reasoning were compelling, I didn’t want to join them. I didn’t want to refuse. I did agree that Israel does require an army. I was well aware of the Middle East political climate, and knew an army was a necessary pain Israel must endure. Yet I didn’t think that this army was as just as I had always thought it to be. I knew the army also messes up, big time, when it comes to controlling a whole civilian population. That is not what an army is for, I thought.

“I do not wish to disobey order,” I continued, almost on the verge of tears, “I just do not want to serve in the Territories!”

The sergeant said nothing, turned around and stormed away.

Soldiers began crowding in the main lecture hall. All fresh like me, out of different basic training camps. A few of them looked at me. Zach, with whom I was in basic training, came to me. “Jonathan, is everything cool?”

“No!” I exclaimed, “This unit is all about the Territories!”

“Yes,” Zach said, “I just understood that too.”

“And…?!” I said, “don’t you want to object? They can place us somewhere else!”

“I…” he muttered, “no…”

I looked at him. “I see, well, good luck.”

Zach gave me a sad look and left.

The course began. The sergeant told me that the commander of the course will see me during lunch time. I waited there in despair.

Finally, when lunch came, the commander, a well-built officer signaled to me to follow him to his office. I stood at the entrance, and saluted him properly, as I learned in basic training.

“Sit down,” he said, “is it Jonathan?”

“Jonathan, yes, commander,” I said.

“I’m Michael,” he said. “Now, talk to me.”

I looked into his eyes and saw that he was actually interested. I told him of taking part in joint Arab-Jewish programs, of learning Arabic, representing Israel in an international college in Canada. I told him that I do not wish to disobey orders, but that I cannot see myself serving in the Territories. That I disagree with the army’s policies there.

He listened and listened, and then asked, “Anything else you want to add?”

“No, thank you, commander,” I said finally.

“Well,” he leaned back. “From what I see and hear you are of high moral values. That is important. Now tell me, what do you know of our unit?”

I repeated to him what I knew.

“Is that all that you know?” he asked.

I squeezed out all that I knew.

“Well, I’m afraid that you do not know much,” he said and leaned back. “How familiar are you with the Oslo Accords?”

“Pretty familiar,” I said, remembering hours of reading in the college’s computer room.

“Are you familiar with the DCOs?” he asked.

“No…” I said.

“The DCOs stand for District Coordination Office, In the Oslo Agreement, The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also known as Oslo two, of 1995, Article three speaks of coordination and cooperation in mutual security matters.”

“I see…” I said.

“In Article five,” Michael continued, “it states that such District Coordination Offices should be established to give services to eight major Palestinian cities. It speaks of cooperation with the Palestinian police, Palestinian health services, etc. The article states that ‘If a person is injured or otherwise in need of assistance, such assistance will be provided by the side that first reaches the site.’ Are you with me?” he asked.

“I am,” I said. I was impressed with his knowledge, but didn’t understand where he was going with this.

“If such a person,” he continued, “is under the security responsibility of the other side, the assisting side shall notify the relevant DCO and appropriate arrangements shall be made for treatment and hospitalization.’” He leaned forward, “Does that sound reasonable to you?”

“Yes.” I said. Oslo agreement was an attempt at making peace happen. I knew that it failed, and that both sides blamed the other side for its failure.

“Our unit,” Michael pointed at his desk, “is to verify the humanitarian conditions of Palestinians. Would you agree that it is crucial, on the way for peace?”

I said, “Yes, but you are a part of the army,” I said.

It seems as if he was not as patient as I hoped. “We are not a part of the army. We are a part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense. We report directly to the Minister of Defense.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted out of there. It all sounded good on paper, but in practice he was wearing an army uniform, and so were probably his soldiers in the Territories too.

He looked at me.

I wanted to hate him, I really did, but there was something which seemed… genuine in him, like he really cared.

“You wanted, Jonathan, to change the army from the inside, right?”

How did he know? I didn’t tell him that.

“You really care, Jonathan. I can see that. I care too, and I also care for you. I can send you now to prison, but I am afraid that it will be a mistake. As we both saw, you still do not know much about the peace process and where it is now, how does it actually look on the ground, today. What I suggest is,” he paused, “that you will embark on our course. In two weeks time we shall meet, and I will ask you how pleased you are. If you are not pleased,” he said and looked straight into my eyes, “I will let you go, and ask that you will be stationed in a good place, somewhere else.”

I looked at him. Was this some kind of a trick? Was he playing a mental game with me, trying to break me? I so wanted to be out of there that same day, out! Anywhere else but there.

But he did quote from the Oslo Agreement. I never actually read the Agreement. I didn’t even know what it actually said… And he spoke in what seemed like a sincere way about the treatment of sick people…

“If I say no?” I finally said.

“If you say no, I’m afraid you’ll regret it later.”

“Can’t you just send me off to another unit?”

“I have explained myself very well, and I think that I am offering you a fair proposal, an honest and respectable one. What say you,” he looked straight at me, “shall we talk again in two weeks?”

I sighed, thinking of all the hours of waiting outside, praying in my heart to be placed somewhere else. Was I making a mistake?

I nodded in agreement.

“Good,” he said and looked at his watch, “now hurry up for lunch, in twenty three minutes we reconvene. Catch up during lunch with what we went over in the morning.”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. CO-What?

March 2005

Age 19

I texted Rebecca, updating her that I am staying, reviewing my decision in two weeks. She texted me a long text message, that I tried to read as I ran to the dining hall in this new southern base.

Zach was happy to see me. “Jonathan!”

“I’m staying for two weeks,” I said, “to see what this unit is all about,” I told him as I shoved some potatoes and rice into my mouth. I was starving.

“Good!” Zach said, “you would like it, it’s for people like you.”

With my mouth full I mumbled, “Please tell me ALL about what you learned.”

“Well,” Zach said, “In the Camp David Accords, signed by Egypt and Israel in 1978, Israel was obliged to create a civil administration for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Remember that name, civil administration.”

“Alright,” I said and took another huge bite.

“This ‘civil administration’,” Zach continued, “intended to replace the military government Israel had established in 1967…”

Zach opened his notebook: “The civil administration shall run all regional civil matters, correspondingly to this decree, for the wellbeing and for the sake of the local population, and with the purpose of providing and operating the public services and proper governance.”

“OK” I said, trying to make sense while looking at the watch. We had 9 minutes left.

“Then in 1993 onwards, with the implementation of the Oslo Accords agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the civil administration transferred some of its governance capacities to the Palestinian National Authority. Since then much of its operations were in District Coordination Offices…—”

“DCOs,” I said, trying to appear as if I knew something.

“Right!” Zach said. “The DCOs and the civil administration are all subordinated to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which is acronymed as COGAT.”

“Co-what?”

“COGAT – Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” Zach explained, “and the current Coordinator is a Major General called Yusef Mishleb, who is a Druze.”

I nearly choked on my food, “A Druze?!”

“Yeah, incredible, right?” Zach said as we got up and began running to the classrooms area.

The Druze are an Arabic-speaking minority in Israel. Some can say that they are Arabs. But, well, it’s complicated. They are not Muslims exactly, their faith originally developed out of a part of Islam called Ismaili Islam. I knew there were some two million Druze around the world, primarily in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, with some 100,000 Druze in Israel.

The summer before I travelled with Rebecca and Chava to a Druze village, where we met a Druze who explained to us about their faith. Chava was intrigued to hear that the Druze believed in reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul. For about two hours we sat and listened this guy’s mind-boggling stories about a young girl who told her parents that she used to be married, and that her husband killed her, leading her amazed parents and the whole community to a village in which a women was reported missing few years earlier, and the young girl showed the amazed crowd where this woman was buried, and indeed she was buried there. We listened to many such stories, and Chava was mesmerized, and quite honestly Rebecca and I were too.

“I knew,” I said to Zach as I felt the food jumping in my belly as we ran, “that Druze people join the army, but I didn’t know there was a Major General!”

Major General, I learned in Basic Training, was one step beneath the Lieutenant general, who was the head of the whole army.

“Yeah, right?” Zach said.

We entered the large classroom. “You changed your mind?” one soldier asked me with a smile.

“We’ll see,” I said, exactly as commander Michael entered the room.

So began two of the most intense weeks of my life. I thought that university was hard – but boy, it was nothing in comparison. From morning to night we studied. Lecturers came to speak to us about international law, civic law, and humanitarian law. Then a series of officers came to speak of their roles and activities. We learned about the security branch, coordinating and cooperating with the Palestinian Police. We learned of the Economics branch, coordinating with the Palestinian Ministry of Finance. We learned of the Health branch, coordinating with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, and we got to hear a personal account from the inspiring Health Coordinator, a woman called Dalia Bassa. Dalia spoke passionately about the rights of Palestinians to receive proper health care, and that within Palestinian cities some hospitals were inadequate.

Dalia proceeded to tell us of how she coordinates between different Palestinian and Israeli organizations. During the lecture her two cellphones rang three times, and we heard her speak in Arabic to a father whose daughter needed treatment in a hospital in Tel Aviv. Dalia told us that she already coordinated their passage and got them the permits to cross. After some half an hour she received another call from the same father saying that they had passed through and are on their way to the Tel Aviv hospital.

When one of the soldiers asked Dalia why she needed two cellphones, Dalia answered that her job requires her to be available to all Palestinians, and that many do not feel comfortable to call an Israeli phone number, so she has a Palestinian phone company number as well.

I liked her comments, but I wanted to challenge her. I was already known among the fellow soldiers as the challenger of our lecturers. “Miss Bassa,” I asked, “would you not say that your position, as noble as it may be, prolongs and cements the occupation?”

I felt the atmosphere in the room stiffening among the other soldiers. Yet Dalia smiled and was not taken aback. “I’m happy you asked,” she said. “I am committed to doing what I can do, with the situation that I was given. Sure, I’d like for there to be no checkpoints, for Palestinians to move freely into Israel, and for Israelis to move freely into Palestinian cities. As you know, I, as an Israeli citizen, cannot visit my Palestinian friends in Palestinian cities, as I am not allowed, neither by my government nor by theirs.”

Dalia paused for a moment, and then said, “But I appreciate your question. All of you will need to put yourselves in Palestinian shoes in order to do what is required from you, which is a difficult task, to coordinate and be the liaisons between the sides.”

After the lecture I came to thank her personally. I felt that if there were more people like Dalia Bassa our region would look different.

In our classes, which lasted well into the evening, we learned of the Oslo II Agreements, and of Areas A, B and C. Areas A were under Palestinian control – full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority. Areas B were under joint control – civil control by the Palestinian Authority and security control by both Palestinians and Israelis. Areas C were under full Israeli civil and security control. We looked at maps, and had to memorize many small details. My notebook got filled with information, details, dates, terms…

We also had an officer lecturing who was in charge of work with NGOs and international organizations. He explained that these Non Governmental Organizations were vital to the Palestinian day to day life, and that they were often filling in the roles that the Palestinian Authority could not or would not fill. We learned about many organizations.

I asked which organization is the most prominent and works with him the most. He said that that would be the International Red Cross, and asked us what did we know of them. We didn’t know much, except that they were in war zones and strived to fulfill human rights.

He then proceeded to talk to us passionately about the Red Cross, explaining that many soldiers fear them and perceive them to be an anti-Jewish organization due to the cross symbol. He went on to talk about it was established in the 1860s and that they even helped Jews during the Holocaust. He said they were non-religious, and that they were supporting financially both the Israeli Red Star of David, as well as the Palestinian Red Crescent. He said that unfortunately, due to the cross in their symbol, many soldiers see them as being anti-Israel, and that it is not the case. One of his branch’s tasks was to go to many army bases of combat soldiers, show them a film and talk to them about the Red Cross.

“The bottom line is,” he explained, “that the Red Cross and other NGOs are required to ensure the fulfillment of the Geneva Accords and other Agreements to which Israel is obliged. And that it is our job to make sure they can do their job well.”

I liked his attitude. A year earlier, when I was still in college, I looked online to see if there were any programs meant to educate soldiers about international law and the rights of a civilian population under occupation. I couldn’t find anything like that. Now I saw that indeed, to an extent, such a program existed. I hurried to talk to him after the lecture. I said that I studied in Canada, speak English well, and feel aligned with what he does. He said I should contact him when the course is over, and gave me his number.

This unit began to grow on me. I still didn’t know if I should stay or not, but the people they brought to speak to us seemed to me inspiring and knowledgeable.

By the end of the first week I asked to become the Soldier on Duty. During that first week the Soldier on Duty was a guy called Amos, and he was in charge of doing many official tasks. Each morning we were to stand in front of the flag as the Soldier on Duty and raise the flag up the flagpole. Each evening we were to stand there again as that Soldier brought the flag down. The Soldier on Duty was in charge of that simple ceremony, to make sure that all the soldiers wore their berets and had their shirts tucked in their pants. He was also in charge of making sure we were not late, of saluting the commander properly when he entered the lecture room, and of being the contact person between the commander and us. In short, he was some sort of a vice-commander to the commander and the sergeant, only that he was a regular soldier like us.

At the end of the first week Amos said to us that whoever wishes to be the next Soldier on Duty should approach him. I came to him.

“You?” Amos said, “But you wanted out!”

I smiled, “But while I’m here, I might as well do my best.”

The following day commander Michael called me to his office: “Private Jonathan, you’ll be the next Soldier on Duty, ask Private Amos to teach you everything. And don’t disappoint me.”

“Yes, commander!”

Amos explained to me thoroughly all of my duties, including daily briefing with the sergeant and the commander.

The following week went well. I did all my chores as expected.

One evening I got an unexpected text message on my cellphone. Maya, the student who was my senior in the college in Canada, texted me: “I hear from Rebecca that you ended up in COGAT? Is that true? I want to talk!!!”

I hurried to call her after dinner and before the night curfew began. Maya was filled with energy as always. “Jonathan!” she exclaimed, “how are you?”

“I’m well,” I said, “adjusting to the army…”

“Yes, kitchen duty at the college is piece of cake, eh?”

“Oh yes,” I smiled. There was no comparison.

“Listen, I’m so happy that you’ve got accepted to COGAT!”

I considered her words. ‘Got accepted’?

She said, “I worked a lot to end up here!”

What? Was Maya in COGAT? I hurried to ask, “What?”

“You fool, you don’t remember?” Maya laughed, “a year and a half ago, when we met in the mall, you, Hadassah and I?”

I remembered that Maya was about to join the army then, after she finished the college. At the time I was more interested in getting to know Hadassah, who was to be the only other Israeli on campus that following year. I was more interested in how my next year in the college was going to look than in Maya’s future army post. The army seemed so far away back then…

Maya laughed, “You were more into figuring Hadassah out than listening to me!”

“I’m… I’m sorry!”

“No, Jonathan, don’t be sorry, it was your duty! She was so nervous, and you tried to ease her, answering her questions and all…”

“Yeah…?”

“Besides, it’s my fault I haven’t been in touch. I did hear from Brooke in an email that your Israeli-Palestinian lecture was brilliant, the best one!”

The mere mentioning of the college made me feel… sad… I was now wearing a uniform, in such a different place…

“But, listen,” Maya said, “how’d you end up in COGAT?”

“I… don’t know,” I said, “I did say something to the Placement Officer on my recruitment day…?”

“Good! Not many people know of COGAT, at least on the Israeli side,” Maya said. “I first heard of COGAT when I volunteered with Rabbis for Human Rights, in the summer between my first and second year at the college, just before you came…? Remember?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“Well I volunteered for them for a few weeks and helped replant olive groves that settlers uprooted, and escorted some international NGOs around.”

“Wow…” I said.

“There I met,” Maya continued, “an Arab family that told me about the army helping them to petition to Israeli court, and when I inquired they said the officers were from COGAT! Then one of the rabbis I was helping told me about them too, and said that if I were to join the army I must go there… and… here I am!”

“So… are you… where are you exactly?”

“I’m in the Jerusalem Envelope.”

“Oh,” I said, “I learnt of that DCO.”

We then began talking about the course. Maya shared how pleased she was with her army position.

“So Maya,” I said finally, “you think I should… stay here?”

“What do you mean? There are soldiers that die to do your course, you get to learn about international law and all, and have two weeks of spoken Arabic, and to top it all you then get a meaningful post!”

Her words made sense. I already heard that we were to study spoken Arabic later on, and it intrigued me.

“You should,” Maya continued, “strive to receive the best grades in the course, because then you get to choose which DCO to be stationed at! And you should ask for the Jerusalem Envelope, we’ll spend a few months together before I leave!”

The next day I spoke to Rebecca. “Did you speak with Maya?” she asked eagerly.

“I did!” I said, and told her everything I knew.

“But… sweetie, I don’t want for you to end up in one of these DCOs… How often could you come home?”

“I will come home almost every weekend,” I said, knowing that that was not our plan.

I heard a silence on the other side.

“Listen,” I said, “I will try my best to get the best grades here, so I can then choose where I want to go. And I will ask to be placed in the headquarters base in Tel Aviv,” I said. I have been thinking about it. That is where all the major decisions were being discussed. I liked that. I also liked the thought of being able to come home each night.

“Oh, sweetie,” Rebecca said, “that would be so wonderful!”

At the end of the second week, on Friday, we were about to go home. As the Soldier on Duty I told everyone of our duties before we were to be released. We cleaned the bathrooms and the rooms until they were spotless. Then the sergeant gathered us for the send off.

We all stood in our regular daily formation, as the sergeant detailed our return to the base first thing on Sunday at 08:00 sharp. He reminded us how we were “forbidden to hitchhike, there are many security alerts of terrorists wishing to kidnap soldiers. Be alert! If you go to clubs or anything, no drunk driving! Don’t discuss anything of what we have learned here with others, nor among yourselves! In case of army emergency during the weekend, the secret unit code will be spoken on the radio, and you’ll need to arrive back here within four hours! Is everything clear?”

I saluted him as he left. We were so excited to go home, people literally ran towards the base’s bus station.

I, however, ran nowhere. I had an important meeting.

I entered the room, saluted, and commander Michael instructed me to sit down.

He looked at me without saying a word. I didn’t say a word either. “So,” he said, “what say you?”

“I will stay.” I said.

Michael couldn’t conceal his smile. “Very well.”

“I will stay,” I said, “and I will strive to have the best grades, so that I can choose which post to be assigned to.”

The commander raised his eyebrows, “Very well. Which post did you have in mind?”

“The headquarters,” I said.

His face frowned. “It is not the headquarters where the unit is tested,” he sighed, “it is in the one on one interaction with the civilian population, at the permits window, with local leadership…”

I had anticipated him saying that, he had stated that several times during the past two weeks. Very little was said of the headquarters, as eventually almost everyone would end up in one of the DCOs. “I want,” I said, “to be where major decisions are made, as well as being able to come back home to my girlfriend.”

It might have seemed stupid to say that, but not every soldier had a girlfriend who emigrated to the country because of him and their relationship.

“If you choose to stay,” Michael said, “you are taking the probable chance that you will be posted in one of the DCOs, do you realize that?”

“I do.” I had already decided that whatever was going to happen will happen for the better.

“Well, have a good weekend,” Michael said.

“Thank you commander!” I saluted, exited the room, grabbed my big duffle bag, and ran towards the bus station. In a few hours I would be in Rebecca’s arms, eating home food, laughing with her and Chava… I was elated.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Kamal

April 2005

Age 19

The following week I arrived at the base, and had gone over the phone on the way with another soldier on his duties as the new Soldier on Duty. This week we were scheduled to have several trips to visit the DCOs, and I was so excited.

We visited the West Bank, and the DCOs near Jenin, Qalqilya, and Nablus. Near Nablus we stood and observed the city, receiving a briefing about the security situation there. I was saddened to hear that no Jews were to enter the city under any circumstances, and remembered my art weekend workshop eight years earlier, when I was 11 years old.

Most interesting, though, was the visit of the Gaza Strip. Much of the violence we heard in the news was generated from Gaza. We visited the Jewish settlements there and met a family in one of them.

It was the end of March 2005. By then the Israeli Government, led by Prime Minister Sharon, had announced of the Disengagement Plan, the intention to evacuate the Gaza Strip, and clear all its settlements, containing some 8,600 settlers. I saw the families living there, and my heart ached to think of them being forced to leave. I dreaded the evacuation date, and was hoping for some agreement to be made by then.

Driving back to the base I thought of the families that will have to be evacuated. Not far from there, my parents settled in a part of the Sinai Peninsula, in a city, now destroyed, which was called Yamit. They were evacuated from there, with my older brother and sister, in 1982, following the peace agreement with Egypt. Though they were given monetary compensation, the evacuation left an emotional scar on both of them.

Whenever we would drive by that area of the country, my dad would sigh as he’d smell the wind. I remember him saying, “Oh, Yamit, Yamit…

I remember once, as a child, my dad trying to convince my mother to drive by one village which several of the evacuated families moved to after the evacuation in 1982.

“No!” my mom responded with such fierce emotion, that I didn’t know existed.

My dad tried, “Just for few minutes, we’d say hello, we’ll see their kids, we haven’t seen them for years!”

My mom said, “How much suffering do you want me to endure?”

Then my dad became silent and kept driving, never passing by these old friends of days gone by.

The most exciting part of the course began in the third week. We were assigned a few teachers of Arabic, given huge textbooks, and our schedule was to be full of Arabic lessons only, from morning to night, for two whole weeks.

Our whole course was split into three smaller groups. My group was assigned a Druze teacher called Kamal. Kamal was fabulous, and told us of the traditional Arab ways of life. “It’s not only about language,” he explained with his thick Arab accent, “it’s about culture.”

Kamal taught us of common mistakes done by Jews when addressing Arabs. He explained that we need to watch out when sitting never to cross our legs with the sole of our shoe being anywhere near the other person, or, God forbid, pointing towards that person. “Feet are extremely offensive,” he explained, “seeing your shoe’s sole feels to Arabs as if you are stepping on them, you see?”

Having the chance to learn Arabic again was to me a huge gift. I learned Arabic between the 7th and 9th grade, but resented the fact that it was all literary. Those who never learned or spoke Arabic didn’t’t understand why I was so resentful. There is a huge difference between literary Arabic and spoken Arabic. The literary language is very official – It is used in most written documents as well as in lectures and news broadcasts. Yet the spoken Arabic, the language most people actually speak with one another, is totally different.

When I began learning Arabic in the seventh grade, our teacher said that only literary Arabic was important.

I was eager to practice my Arabic back then. Once, on the bus, I sat across two girls who spoke in Arabic. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but was excited to try and share what I knew. I mustered the courage to address them. What I said sounded to me like, “Hello, where are you from?”

But, later I learned that it sounded more like, “Hallo, wh’re art thee from?

To them, it sounded like terribly old Shakespearean language, and they began giggling.

I tried again with a sentence my teacher taught us to say, “My name is Jonathan, and I want peace.”

What I sounded like to them was something like “Mine own nameth is Jonathan and I desireth peace.”

After they giggled even louder I was less enthusiastic to continue.

The following week I asked my friend Atheer what had transpired, and he said, “Fool! You spoke in literary Arabic, not in spoken Arabic!”

“What’s the big difference?” I asked.

“It’s day and night, no one speaks this way, we only write this way, and they talk this way on the news, but no one speaks this way, man!”

I came back to school upset. When I protested to the teacher in class I almost created a student revolt. Sharing my bus incident, the other kids in class joined me in saying that what we learn in class is not what Arabs actually speak.

The teacher blushed and tried to explain to us that the simple spoken Arabic was of “lower quality”, “inferior”, and that we could not learn to read and write in it, because it is simply not unwritable.

“So what?!” we protested, “all we want is to be able to speak!”

But as happens to many student revolts, we soon acquiesced and began studying for the next test.

Now, years later, I was finally given a proper opportunity to learn the actual spoken language, in the dialect common around Palestine. It was a dream coming true, and I threw myself into it, learning Kamal’s words as if they were the Ten Commandments. I wrote down everything in my notebook, and on the walk to and from the dining hall, I reviewed the growing list of words, soon amounting to many hundreds.

At night, before going to bed, I reviewed these words. First thing in the morning I reviewed these words. When Kamal was busy trying to explain a grammatical concept that I had already understood, I moved ahead to the next pages on the book, earning that one minute, trying not to waste a moment.

Of all the things I remember from my military service, from my 36 long months in the army, of my 156 long weeks there, these two weeks were what I cherished the most. Knowing a language gives a person a huge bridge into another person’s culture, customs, identity, way of thinking… Over the decade that had passed since then, my Arabic – this spoken Arabic – has proven one of the greatest miracles of my life. It is still not good – pretty lame actually, but it enables me to at least hold a very basic conversation and to understand another person. I have been able to win friends in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and befriend even Syrians and Lebanese – all through the gift of speaking their language, by the tongue. It is said that “Life and death are determined by the tongue” – I have been fortunate to win life by the tongue.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. “How Can I Help You” in Arabic

April 2005

Age 19

The days were packed with Arabic from morning to night. All of the phrases we had to memorize were ones that were designed to help, assist and show respect towards the other person:

“How can I help you?”

“Let me see what I can do.”

“Let me help you fill out this form.”

“This is a humanitarian case, I will handle it urgently.”

“I am a member of the District Coordination Office, I am here for you, explain to me clearly what the matter is.”

We learned small phrases that I still find useful a decade later: “You are most definitely right”; “I am here to serve you” and “Together we can solve this!”

Kamal kept giving us day to day examples: produce truck was stopped at a checkpoint, and we need to talk to the farmer. Ambulance heads towards a hospital in Tel Aviv, we need to find who is on the ambulance and do they have their IDs with them. A school principal wishes to get permits for his students to visit a museum in Haifa. Parents from the Gaza Strip wish to go to their son’s wedding in the West Bank.

These situations made me upset. Why must they go through us? Why must this system be so bureaucratic?

But as we watched the news after dinner each evening in the lecture hall, these questions were pushed aside. Images of violence towards soldiers and settlers filled the screen. A suicide bomber exploding in a club in Tel Aviv, by the sea-promenade. As far as we knew, this suicide bomber could have gotten into Israel in an ambulance, or have used a fake ID… We were to assist the Palestinians, while always remembering the security of Israelis.

And yet, I was moved by how the Arabic part in the course was opening our hearts towards Palestinians. I could see the transformation in some of my fellow soldiers. Kamal played us songs by the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and Lebanese singer Fairuz. When we learned the words and listened to Fairuz’s song about Jerusalem, called Flower among Cities, we were all moved.

That song spoke of Jerusalem from an Arab perspective. For example, the lyrics include lines such as “Crying for those who have been displaced, for the children without homes, for those who resisted and fell at the gates.”

This obviously referred to how Palestinians lost Jerusalem to Israel in the Six-Day War. However, the song also included lines such as “The child is in the cave with his mother Mary,” which refers to the importance of Jerusalem to Christians. Lyrics such as “By our hands we will restore the splendor of Jerusalem” sent shivers down my spine. I felt, for a moment, as a Palestinian listening to these words.

Few words in that song caught my attention and my imagination like those did. It sounded almost like lyrics from a Hebrew song:

“My face will be cleaned by the holy water of the Jordan river

And the effects of the barbarism of the past will be erased O Jordan River”

“Amen!” I thought to myself. May the effects of barbarism be erased…

“This is our home and Jerusalem belongs to us

And in our hands we will celebrate the splendor of Jerusalem

By our hands the peace will return to Jerusalem!”

I felt mixed emotions. “Our” home. “Our” hands. But, yet again, we did that too. All of the Hebrew Jerusalem songs were quite “us”, “we” and “our”. Can this “our” be a more inclusive “our”, to include both sides?

Finally this line caught my eyes and heart:

“Our eyes are set out to you everyday and to you we pray”

This line almost seemed like it was taken out of Israel’s anthem:

“With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Jerusalem

Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost…”

Kamal, patiently and persistently, tried to make us understand the Palestinian narrative. In Hebrew we say “Israeli Defense Force”, or “the Defense Army.” When we learnt to say it in Arabic, Kamal told us to strike the word ‘Defense’.

“Why?” we asked.

“Either you just say ‘Army’ plainly, or you call it in their name.”

“What’s their name?” we asked.

“The Occupation’s Army.”

My friend Zach protested. “C’mon, Kamal, that’s ridiculous!”

“What do you expect?” Kamal retorted, “They are a different people, speaking a different language. You say ‘a terrorist’, they say ‘a martyr’. If you want to speak their language, you need to call the army just ‘army’. But do expect to hear from them, at least in private conversations, the term, ‘the occupation’s army.”

Each night I reviewed that day’s words. Olive tree. Olive grove. Road. House. Building. University. School. Principal. Students. Teachers. Hospital. Doctor. Farmer. Engineer. Car. Bus. Bicycle. Motorcycle. Van. Computer. Newspaper. Store…

I began breathing Arabic. A part of me began actually to want to serve in the Territories.

The mere thought of it shocked me at first. But when I thought of actually conversing, touching, bridging between soldiers and civilians, I thought that maybe… But I was with Rebecca. And coming home only on weekends did not seem fair to her. Besides, I did pledge that I will not serve in the Territories. Yet this pledge began to seem distant. Where could I do the most good?

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Finishing the Course

April 2005

Age 19

I worked my ass off during the COGAT course. First thing in the morning, before the sun rose, I went over the Arabic words in my notebook. Then, reviewing the structure of the unit, the different DCOs, the different branches and offices, names of NGOs active in the Territories, important dates in the history of the conflict, details of UN Resolution 242, UN Resolution 446, UN Resolution 3236, the Camp David Accords. Madrid Conference of 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993, Gaza–Jericho Agreement of 1994, Oslo definitions of areas of A, B, and C….

I studied like a madman.

Towards the end of the Course we took the General Exam, and then the Arabic Exam. I spit out everything I knew.

The day before we were to finish, we were visited by the Head of the COGAT School, a Lieutenant Colonel. He was Michael’s commander, and much older, in his 50s.

After the usual salutation, The Colonel asked us to tell him about what went well during the course, and what could be improved.

Naturally we shared a lot of compliments, but very little ideas for improvement. No one wanted to get into trouble. It was the Army, with a capital A, and this was a Colonel, with a capital C, and we were soldiers, only young privates, with a very very small ‘p’.

The Colonel then said that he wished to award two awards. One would be given to an Outstanding soldier for “Exemplary Behavior” and another for Outstanding Soldier in his “Depth of Knowledge”. He first gave the first award, and we all clapped as Amos rose to shake the Colonel’s hand and receive the printed diploma.

Then the Colonel called my name for the “Depth of Knowledge” award.

I rose up and shook the Colonel’s hand. “Good job,” he said, and handed me the diploma.

Will this mean…? Could this mean…?

That afternoon Kamal came to me and took me aside, to the Language Library. He, of all the commanders and personnel, was my favorite.

“Would you consider, Jonathan, staying in the base, here, as a teacher?”

What? Was he seriously offering this to me? “But, Kamal, my Arabic, it’s not that good!”

“But it can become that good,” Kamal said and smiled. “What do you think?”

I thought of the joy of teaching. I loved teaching. In College, one of my favorite things to do was to simplify things to others. I especially liked simplifying math for two Afghan students, girls, who struggled not only with the math, but also with the English involved. I made up stories and jokes to explain to them mathematical rules. And I was patient. Though the three of us rarely spent time together as friends, we had a strong bond given the time we spent around math. I loved teaching. This coming from Kamal was a huge compliment.

I was humbled. Yet I found myself asking a question I was reluctant to ask. “Could I somehow go back home in the evenings? You see, my girlfriend, she’s an immigrant and…”

“Well, we can possibly allow you to go out once a week…?”

“I see,” I said, “I understand.” I thought of Kamal and the other teachers’ long hours, teaching us way into the night.

I was torn.

That same evening Michael the commander called me to his office.

“Jonathan, ‘Depth of Knowledge’ indeed,” he said. “Are you pleased?”

“I am, commander!”

“Do you still insist on the whole headquarters thing?”

I smiled, “I am.”

“It is too bad,” he sighed, “but I will see what I can do. I will call you Saturday night on the phone.”

I stood there. In this very same office I stood over a month ago, trembling, ready to go to jail if I must.

Michael looked at me. “Thank you. Anything else?”

I swallowed my saliva. I felt gratitude. He really cared. He was what we call a true mensch, a person of integrity and honor. I grew to like him, even though he was so distant and formal. “Just…” I said, “thank you, Commander!”

He smiled, “Now go and enjoy your last evening here, and stop going with your notebook, you don’t need it now.”

“Yes, Commander!” I nodded, and exited.

The next day we all bid farewell to one another. Some strong friendships were made during the length of the course.

We all hugged, as if we knew each other for years. It is amazing what several weeks of intensive studying and living together can do. We also felt identified with our unit, and were hoping to serve it the best we could. We hugged each other, but the commander and the sergeant still kept their distance.

As I was leaving the base, I heard my name and turned around.

“Kamal!” I exclaimed.

“Listen, Jonathan,” he said after we walked towards each other, “if you regret your decision, we are here for you. You’ll make a great teacher.”

I felt so lucky. Then Kamal reached and hugged me, breaking the army code between privates and course personnel. I was shocked, honored, and hugged him a strong hug back. He was my first Druze friend.

Kamal looked at me and pointed his finger at my chest, “You keep in touch!”

“I will!” I promised, as I ran to join the other soldiers at the bus stop. “Thank you Kamal! For everything!”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. UN Branch

May 2005

Age 19

I was fortunate to be placed at the headquarters of COGAT in a large base in Tel Aviv. I was assigned in the branch assigned for matters involving the UN, NGOs, foreign relations and diplomacy, or in short, the ‘UN Branch’. The branch was led by a Colonel, and she loaded me with work right from week one.

I was given documents to translate from English to Hebrew and vice versa. I was assigned different projects that had to do with various NGOs. I needed to be the liaison between NGOs and the army. It was exciting.

I was moved to tears when I received a list of nearly 80 Palestinian teens who were to go to a peace camp in Maine, called Seeds of Peace. I had heard of it before. The directors of Seeds of Peace wanted all the Palestinian kids to fly together with the Israeli kids out of the Israeli Ben Gurion Airport. The army, however, thought that the Palestinians should instead go through Amman’s airport in Jordan.

Seeds of Peace insisted that they should all fly together and that it was a part of the camp – the flight itself. The only problem was that four teens, out of these 80 Palestinian teens, were not allowed to be given permits. On a conversation with the Seeds of Peace coordinator, a man called Sami, I said that I would see what I could do.

I picked up the phone to call the intelligence branch. By then I had learned to speak over the phone in an assertive way. When you bark, I learned, they think you are an officer.

“What’s with these four kids!” I exclaimed, “Why were they unable to get permits?”

The person from the intelligence branch answered, “They have security issues.”

“They are fourteen!” I barked, “F-o-u-r-t-e-e-n!”

“Fourteen is already a potential threatening minor,” the person said.

“Listen,” I said, “if they will not be receiving the permits, this will cause a diplomatic incidence. The last thing I want is for you and me to be reprimanded by the US Consul for not granting these kids these permits.”

Silence. Then I hear, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’m wiring you all their info again” I said, “as well as the organization’s charter, and the letter from the Israeli Ministry of Education.”

“We’ll see what we can do.”

Then, a week later, after repeating this call every day, the four teens received a green light.

“Jonathan,” I heard Sami’s voice, “you are a treasure!”

A few weeks after I arrived at the headquarters, I brought some papers to the security branch, when I suddenly heard a voice in the corridor:

“Oh my God,” she said, “Jonathan? Jonathan Kis-Lev?”

I turned around. She looked familiar, but from where… I mumbled, “Oh hi!”

“Jasmine…? Remember, Jasmine Kamintski? We went together to junior high!”

“Of course!” I exclaimed. I did remember. Wow, she was a young girl back then.

Jasmine was excited, “I saw you over the years on TV! But…what are you doing in COGAT?”

“I was stationed here,” I explained.

“At which branch?” she asked eagerly.

“The UN branch.”

Jasmine made a face, “Oh, your Colonel, she’s a bitch!”

I laughed. I now remembered Jasmine’s character more vividly, “ I looked at my watch, “Speaking of which, I need to get this to the security branch—”

“I’m from the security branch,” she said and winked, “I will get it to our Colonel.”

“Oh will you? Thank you Jasmine!” I said and hurried back to run one more errand.

When I came back to the office, Liz, the secretary, was giggling: “Oh my God, you know Jasmine? She called and she is like madly in love with you!”

“I…” I mumbled.

“Don’t worry, I told her you have a girlfriend and that you are serious, I almost needed to send her some Kleenex!”

I smiled and hurried to work.

A few days later Jasmine passed by our office to deliver something, and came to say hi. I had a list of Palestinian IDs on the table, trying to get permits for Palestinian musicians to visit a rehearsal of their orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

Jasmine grabbed a seat and we began talking. The Colonel was away in a meeting, so the office was more kicked back. We spoke of common friends from school, and she wanted to know a lot about my TV career, what was so and so really like, etc.

Jasmine told me how she wanted to be an actress as well, after “this” finishes. “This” was her army service. She was almost done, and was wondering whyI was only a private, why I joined so late. I explained to her about the college in Canada.

“Cool!” she said.

Like me, Jasmine also did the same COGAT course in the southern base, and was then, she told me, stationed in Gaza.

“Why did you move to the headquarters?” I asked.

“Well,” she said and her eyes opened widely, “that’s a whole other story.”

I looked back at my computer, wishing to continue plugging in the ID numbers. Jasmine kept sitting there, her legs crossed.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Just plugging in these numbers,” I said, “to see if anyone has a security issue on their file.”

“Oh don’t worry,” Jasmine said and laughed, “they all have security issues!”

I got serious, shook my head in disagreement, and said, “These are talented Palestinian musicians, most of them in their teens and -”

“Oh don’t be fooled, darling,” Jasmine said and got up to leave, “I was just like you!” she said and laughed a little too loud. “Anyway,” she said, “I got to go, I have some work to do too!”

But then I heard her speaking with Liz down the hall for a while.

At the end of the day Liz came to say goodbye. I was still working on the orchestra permits. I looked at Liz, “I heard you and Jasmine had a fun time,, it’s nice when the Colonel and the Major are gone!”

“Oh yes, and Jasmine, she’s hilarious,” Liz said and then added, “the poor girl…”

I looked at her, not understanding. “The ‘poor girl’?”

“What, you know her, don’t you?”

“A little, from school, but…?”

“You didn’t know Jonathan, what had happened to her in Gaza?”

I turned around from my computer to face her fully, “No… What?”

“She survived an attack on the DCO!”

“What?!” Jasmine seemed to me so… joyful.

“Oh yes, you heard of the woman terrorist, who blew herself a year ago or so…?”

I suddenly remembered that during the tour we did in Gaza, during the COGAT course, the commander there mentioned something… “Vaguely,” I said to Liz, “I remember hearing something vaguely.”

Liz looked at her watch, “Well, I got to go, look it up. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Liz said and left the office.

I looked at the ID lists on my desk. I could finish them tomorrow. I went over to the only computer in our office that had an internet connection, the “unclassified” computer. I googled, “woman terrorist Gaza” and typed the name of the DCO “Erez crossing”.

14 January 2004, 9:30 am, a female Palestinian suicide bomber, approached the pedestrian terminal Erez Crossing, the main crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip where Israeli security forces perform routine security checks to the Palestinian workers before they are allowed to enter Israel.

The suicide bomber was pretending to be limping and told the security guards that she had a metal plate in her leg which would most likely trigger the alarm. As a result, a female soldier was sent to check her. As the suicide bomber was waiting for the arrival of the female soldier, she managed to infiltrate into the inspection hall, and detonated the hidden explosive device which was concealed on her body.

Three soldiers and one civilian employee of the Erez crossing were killed in the attack. Ten people, including four Palestinians, were injured.

I kept on reading.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. The suicide bomber was a 22-year-old Palestinian mother of two. After the attack a video of the suicide bomber, which was filmed before the attack, was published, in which she stated her dream was to “Turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists.”

I was horrified, appalled, disgusted.

Finally, I read the following:

“Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, stated in an interview with the Reuters news agency that “The fact that a woman took part for the first time in a Hamas operation marks a significant evolution. The male fighters face many obstacles on their way to operations, and this is a new development in our fight against the enemy. The holy war, Jihad, is an imperative for all Muslim men and women.”

I hurried to close the webpage and stood up, repulsed.

This Sheikh was the same one that was killed in Israeli targeting some weeks later. I remembered his photo, posted on the college’s bulletin board. I remembered Hadassah’s printed response. I remember Amal’s comment, “If he’s a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist too.”

I was appalled. I wanted to find Amal, wherever he was now, and shake him. ‘This “sheikh” of yours was a terrorist, Amal…! Wake up!’

Then I thought of Jasmine. Was she really there then…?

A few days later I went with Jasmine to grab lunch in the large cafeteria of the headquarters base. Jasmine only took salads. I was used to piling my plate with everything.

After some small talk and more information from my side on Israeli TV stars with whom I got to work, I asked her, “Could you… tell me… what had happened there, at the DCO?”

Jasmine’s face frowned, “So this is what all this cordiality is about? You just wanted to hear my poor story?”

I was taken aback by her comment, immediately reprimanding myself for wanting to hear. “No! I wanted to spend some time with you,” I said. “I don’t want you to tell anything if you don’t want.”

Jasmine groaned and exclaimed, “Arrgghhhhh…!!!” and then faked a big smile, with the corners of her lips drawn down. I saw pain in her face. She sighed again and asked, “What do you want to know?”

“Were you… there?”

“I was,” Jasmine said and smiled.

“And…” I tried to think of another question. “Did you get injured?”

“I did. But thank God I’m fine now!”

“And…” I tried another question. Her answers were so laconic. “What exactly happened?”

“It was,” Jasmine said and glanced away, “just a regular day. I was at the Crossing as part of the humanitarian presence of the DCO.” She stopped and asked, “Did you visit the Crossing?”

“I did, at the course,” I said, “but I don’t remember much.”

“Well, there were several offices there, I was part of the humanitarian office, which basically meant that we received urgent cases and had to process them. Our office was one of few offices built around this large hall, where people were going through security… It was just a regular day… and then,” Jasmine sighed, “then my friend, who was sitting in the security room near us, with the cameras and all, was called to perform a check for a woman, most people who cross are men, you know…”

I nodded, eager to hear more.

“And then there was a huge noise,” Jasmine said and closed her eyes, “and I felt my chair pushed toward my desk, and the wall, the plaster wall, fell on me. There were screams, shouting… I…”

Jasmine began tearing.

I regretted having asked her. Why was I so nosy?!

“I…” she said and took a paper napkin, carefully wiping her tears around her mascara, “I pushed the wall pieces off of me, and went through the door, and saw everything with smoke, and mess, and… I saw this hand on the floor…”

Jasmine began crying, “See!” she exclaimed, “I hate talking about it! I shouldn’t have agreed…”

I reached over to hug her. For a moment I thought about the ‘proper conduct code’ requiring male and female soldiers to always avoid physical touch. ‘Screw it,’ I thought as I reached to hug her, ‘they should put a clause in there allowing for touch in case of… in cases like this!’

Jasmine hugged me back, then squeezed my back and gently pushed me away, drying her tears with a new napkin.

“I’m…” I looked at her, “I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s not your fault!” she said and sniffled, “It’s me, I’m always so emotional. Even before the terrorist attack…”

I looked at my watch. We needed to go. I rose, “Shall we head…?”

Jasmine looked at my plate, “But you barely ate!”

“I’m good,” I said.

We put our trays into the tray racks and headed outside.

We walked quietly towards the COGAT compound at the other side of the base.

“After it,” Jasmine continued, “I was in a hospital for several days. The army’s psychologist told me that if I wanted I could be exempted from the rest of my service. Or that they can offer me an easy position in another base. I didn’t want to leave the army, not like that. And so I was stationed here few months later, at the security branch. At the DCO I was a non-commissioned officer,” Jasmine said proudly, “here I’m just a secretary, but it’s OK. I will be done soon.”

I smiled a sad smile. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

Over the next three months until her release from the army, Jasmine came to visit me several times. “You are always so busy!” she would say. I was indeed.

Over time I came to understand that Jasmine was against everything I was doing in my work, in fact, against everything COGAT was doing.

“You are so naïve,” she’d say. “I was that way too until I woke up!”

I wanted to show her respect. Had I heard anyone else talking that way, I would have given them a speech… But Jasmine was delicate, and I saw she was still emotionally shaken.

One day she sat near my desk. She fiddled with her fingers, her nails lightly drumming on my desk. She obviously wanted to talk. I turned away from my computer. “What’s up?” I asked, trying to use the time to sort some papers into piles of ‘completed’, ‘awaiting response’, etc.

Jasmine mumbled, “Oh nothing…”

I leaned back at my chair, “Jasmine, what’s going on?

“So…” she said, and I already began seeing her eyes watering. “So…” she said again, “today is Alexei’s birthday,” she said.

Alexei, I knew, was her friend from the DCO, who was killed in the attack. She often mentioned his name, as well as the name of another soldier who died there, Tom.

“And I’m only thinking…” she began saying, and began to cry.

I looked at her with compassion, empathy, love, anything I could muster. I felt so bad for her. She felt to me like a bird, a wounded little bird. I put my hand on her hand.

She gasped for some air, “I’m only thinking, he could have been, he should have been 21 today…”

I began tearing too. Damn it.

Jasmine sobbed, “He should have been 21 today… towards finishing his service… We always spoke of how we’d go together to Cancun, and just get piss drunk there…”

We both cried. I imagined Jasmine at the DCO there, with Alexei. The DCOs had always sparked profound relationships among soldiers, as the soldiers were ‘stuck’ there all week, all day, all night, unlike the headquarters base, where soldiers, me included, hurried to go home each day… I imagined her and Alexei laughing at the modest “club” in the DCO base, talking, playing card games.

“And Alexei was the last person they should have killed,” Jasmine moaned, “ahhhh, he was so gentle! He was just six months in the army… he told me how he wanted to go to Officer’s Course, so that he could then make a real difference. And what’s worse,” she said and sighed, “is that he really liked them. He spoke Arabic with this funny Russian accent of his, so respectful of them…”

I couldn’t not cry.

Jasmine screamed, “And it’s his damn birthday today!!! I just hate that it’s like this, I hate that it’s like this…”

I hugged her. Liz must have heard us, as she came straight away and sat next to Jasmine, and hugged her.

In her embrace, Jasmine let go and cried freely. I looked at Liz, stroking Jasmine’s hair. I marveled at the way girls know so well how to just… be there.

Jasmine howled in Liz’s embrace. Liz looked at me. I motioned with my mouth, “It’s Alexei’s birthday…”

She nodded at me with a gentle smile, and then closed her eyes, “Let it go, Jasmine, let it go, it’s OK, it’s OK.”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Farewell, Jasmine

2006

Age 20

Jasmine eventually completed her army service a few months later. In her goodbye ceremony, which took place at the COGAT main lecture room in the headquarters, many of us gathered.

Her commander, a rather laconic Colonel in charge of the security branch, said a few words: “I’m very proud of you, Jasmine. You have come to us following negative circumstances. Your commander at the Gaza DCO told me to be easy on you, and I promised that we would take care of you.”

He coughed and continued, “And yet, I noticed, over this past year, that you always wanted to do more, and you were happy to take non-secretarial tasks on .” He coughed again. “Finally, I must say, that you could have been exempted, following the incident at the Crossing, from finishing your service. I salute you, sergeant Jasmine, for setting an example for all of us.”

We all clapped. Her commander asked if she wanted to add anything. She nodded ‘no’, and seemed very excited. Then she said quickly, “I love you all!”

Liz and another soldier sitting behind me called back, “We love you too Jasmine!”

There, with the attention on her, I could remember her jolly face back in the seventh grade when we first met. I imagined how she joined the army, doing her best. I remembered what she told me about the COGAT course, and how committed she was to the unit and to its values. I thought of the attack, and of her stories of Alexei and Tom, both were her close friends. We were all wearing the same COGAT shoulder tag, with the sword wrapped with the olive branch symbolizing the yearning for peace. We all wore the same pin on our green shirts, showing two hands shaking one another, the hope for coexistence.

I looked at her as she smiled her big smile, and was wondering what will be of her. More so, I was wondering how much the service helped her, and how much the service did her an injustice.

After the ceremony I stood in line to hug her, which was ‘allowed’ in farewell parties, as she was no longer a ‘soldier’ but a ‘citizen’. Jasmine hugged me back, and then held my hands firmly, “Thank you, Jonathan.”

I thought of how she had helped me a few weeks before, by reading to me a long list of ID numbers out loud. In between, and after each number, she kept throwing comments such as “Here goes another terrorist!” or “On his way for another suicide bombing!”

In the beginning I laughed, but then I finally told her, “Jasmine, if you are so certain about these folks being terrorists, then why do you cooperate with me, reading to me the numbers out loud and all?”

Jasmine was silent. “Why are you so mad?”

“I’m not,” I said, “I just… don’t understand.”

“Well I don’t understand either, alright?” she said and stormed out of my office.

I felt uneasy, so I later went to visit her at the security branch.

“Oh hi there,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was cold, or OK.

“Hi there,” I replied, “listen, I didn’t mean—”

“No, you were right,” she said, “I had to rethink it. I guess… I guess when I’m around you I get caught up in your positivity about these people. You really believe in them… And you remind me of myself before…” Jasmine sighed.

I sensed a moment of openness, and imitated her, “Jasmine, are you becoming naïve? I was once naïve just like you!”

“Go away!” she laughed, “All your Arabs shall go to hell and so will you!” she said and as I was leaving she threw a pen at my direction. That indicated to me that we were cool.

Now, holding her hand, this newly admitted citizen – no longer a soldier – friend of mine, I said “Hey, thank you too… for opening up…”

Her eyes became moist, “Thank you for listening.” Then she let go of her hands at once, “I haven’t cried until now and I’m not going to!”

We hugged again, and she went on to hug the others.

I thought to myself, ‘One day you too, Jonathan, will finish your service. But now you’ve got some work to do,’ and so I headed back to the office. Little did I know at the time that things were going to get bleak, bleaker than I could imagine.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. A Stupid war

Summer 2006

Age 20

In my first summer in the army I felt fortunate for not having been sent, along with thousands of soldiers, to help with the Disengagement withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Like many, I watched the painful scenes of Jewish soldiers evacuating Jewish settlers, entire families. Thousands of people. It was painful to watch.

Now, in the summer of 2006, I was alarmed to see that the Strip was not at all becoming as quiet as we had hoped. In the spring, around June, more rockets were fired from within the Strip towards Israeli towns. Simultaneously, the army only added fuel to the fire.

On June 9, Israel responded to the rocket fire with a bombardment of launching sites. During this campaign an explosion occurred on a busy Gaza beach, killing a Palestinian family of eight. I kept reading the news each morning in the newspapers. By then I had transferred from the UN branch to the spokesperson branch, due to difficulties with the Major, who replaced the Colonel who left for another post. I became in charge of COGAT’s website and other duties. A part of my duty in the spokesperson branch was to survey all the news and to take news related to COGAT, scan them, and wire them to offices throughout the unit. I hated this task, as each day I kept seeing how the situation was getting worse and worse.

On June 25, armed Palestinians crossed the border from the Gaza Strip into Israel via a makeshift tunnel and attacked an IDF post. After killing two soldiers, they captured corporal Gilad Shalit. I was myself a corporal then, and thought that with a little change of past events, I could have been in his place instead. Hamas claimed that the attack was carried out in response to June 9 killings. Israeli sources contradicted that, saying that the digging of the tunnel have taken place months before.

I sighed.

I saw how we were falling into madness.

Not a year had passed since the Disengagement and the withdrawal of Israeli presence from the Gaza Strip. And now, Israeli forces entered the Strip again, searching for the captured soldier Shalit.

To add to the mess, on July 12th, Hezbollah, the militant group based in Lebanon, attacked a patrol of two Israeli Humvees patrolling the Israeli northern border with Lebanon, killing three soldiers, injuring two, and capturing two soldiers.

Along with corporal Shalit in the Gaza Strip, now Israel had three captured soldiers. It felt to me as if all hell was going to break loose.

I embraced myself, ‘Not again.’

Each morning I would survey the newspapers. As I saw the number of casualties escalating, I understood. It’s clear now. We’re in a war.

Faces of soldiers, my age, wearing the same uniform, appear on the front covers, with black frames. Dead, so young.

Why are we doing this? Why are we falling into war again? Isn’t it only serving the extreme Islamist militants? They grew stronger each time after Israel kills Palestinian civilians. Couldn’t we avoid going this route?

So many dead, on both sides. Rockets fall like crazy in both the north and the south. I keep reading of the leaders of my people, of their people, can’t they do more? Can’t they stop it? Stupid, stupid, we are playing into the hands of the extremists! On both sides!

Finally there was some progress in the diplomatic arena, the US, Britain, and France, were all working towards a ceasefire. ‘Please,’ I thought, ‘end it already!’

Then a ceasefire is declared. Will begin in 48 hours. Why so long? Why so long?

I keep looking at the papers, waiting for the ceasefire to come into effect… And I see new faces, more soldiers killed.

And then I see him.

His face.

Aaron.

“No!” I scream.

Ben, the soldier from the adjacent office comes over, “Jonathan? Is everything OK?”

“No! Nooooo!!!” I look at the front page again. Perhaps I was wrong?

His face is smiling, his ever-endearing smile. His thick black eyebrows, his beautiful eyes, just as when we were kids. The words under the photo state: “Staff Sergeant Aaron Shteinberg, Age 21.”

“No!” I slam my fist on the table.

“Jonathan??” Ben asks me, “What happened?”

I cannot think of any… word… I feel tears building up, threatening to burst. To suffocate me.

I look again at the photo, and I run out of the office, his face still haunting me.

Aaron.

I run around the building, outside. I run. I run, and run and run. As if running will save me from this news.

Over the past few days I kept looking at the newspapers. Here I am, in one of the easiest jobs ever conceived by the army, while I know my friends are fighting – friends, friends of friends. Gaza, Lebanon. Finally with this ceasefire, I thought it was over. But then, as if to give a last blow, both Hezbollah and Israel went into bloody 48 hours until the ceasefire came into effect.

And 24 new faces appear on the newspaper.

Aaron.

“Jon! Jon!” I hear him saying in my mind. We’re ten years old. Aaron was so kind to me always. “I will vote for you for student council!” he says. “You will win Jon!”

We studied along one another for six years, when I still lived in the village. Our whole elementary school. I haven’t kept in touch since I moved to the city.

Aaron.

He had the sweetest lisp. When he ran around and played in sports class, he used to get the reddest cheeks. He was always so nice to me, never teased me. He was so… good.

Aaron!

I remember.

I am under a sycamore tree, in the headquarters base.

It’s hot. Two flies keep bugging me. “Go away!!!” I scream at them helplessly.

I cannot believe the stupidity. Stupidity! Why? Why? Why did we have to “achieve more security achievements”? I hated that the army would try to give the war a “last push” towards a more “apparent” victory, towards a more “durable” ceasefire. Nonsense!

When people die there is no victory!

I could have been in his place.

I cry there, sheepishly, under the tree.

Later that day I get a text message on my phone. “Have you heard of Aaron?” my friend asks.

“Yes….” I write, and type, and then rewrite my answer several times – “So sad” – no – “Horrible” – no – until I settle simply on “I heard.”

Tamara sent me a sad smiley. I thought of asking her if she was going to the week of mourning at his family’s house. But then… I stopped myself. If she’d say ‘yes’, she might then invite me to go with her. To his mourning. And I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t go.

It was 2006.

The years passed.

A few years later I visit my childhood village with my new girlfriend, Hallel. I then decide to take her to my favorite place. “Wait till you see this little spring,” I tell her, “it’s so nice…”

Less than an hour later we arrive at the spring. We take off our sandals and deep in the water. The water is so cool. It’s so refreshing.

Then I see a sign that I do not recall from before… a steel plaque, saying:

“In loving memory of

AARON SHTEINBERG 1985-2006

In this spring our beloved Aaron loved to swim,

Here he spent many a joyful hours in his youth.”

“Jon,” Hallel asks me, “are you OK?”

“I’m… I’m fine.”

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. “Honorably discharged from service”

February 5^th^ 2008

Age 22

Leaving the army was one of the greatest joys of my life. You don’t know what freedom is until it is taken from you. I was so thrilled to leave.

Many of us gathered in the COGAT lecture room in the headquarters. February 5th, 2008. Oh how I longed for this date to come!

I stood there, wearing proudly my Staff sergeant badge that I worked so hard to earn (namely by not running away for three whole years).

The Spokesperson looked at me. “Jonathan was to us a beacon of light. He had taken over the website, and not only rewrote many of its standard pages, but also wrote his own articles. Jonathan also won the Army’s Magazine third prize for best short story…”

I stood next to him and blushed, thinking, ‘Oh my God he is pulling all the triggers…’

“…Which brought us,” the Spokesperson continued, “great pride not only to our branch, but also to COGAT as a whole. Jonathan was always meticulous in his work, and a man of his word. I see a great future for you, Jonathan,” he said and smiled, “and I’m sorry you are leaving us.”

“But Jonathan’s not!” my friend Ben whispered. People chuckled.

Then there were the hugs and kisses, compliments and praises… but I wasn’t there. I was walking on sunshine, surfing on clouds, ready for tomorrow, when I’ll return my duffle bag, my uniforms, my boots, everything.

The next day I walked out of the same base to which I arrived three years earlier with Rebecca, Chava, and my parents. With the Reception and Sorting Base behind me, I felt all of a sudden a feeling of… elation. A huge relief. I waited for this moment for so long, especially since the war a year and a half earlier. I was so relieved.

Armed with a “Certificate Demonstrating Completion of Service”, an identity card for reserve duty soldiers with the inscription “Honorably Discharged from Service,” and a ‘personal’ thank you letter from the army’s Chief of Staff – I was finally, finally, not a soldier anymore.

The world seemed more colorful. And I felt… lighter. World, beware, here I come!

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. No longer a soldier

Summer 2008

Age 22

After finishing the army I flew to Canada. Two months earlier Rebecca and Chava returned there, after three years in Israel. Rebecca was eager to begin university there, and she missed Canada greatly. Chava too was looking forward to working for an organization other than the US Embassy, for which she worked while in Israel.

Over the few months prior to that it became evident to both Rebecca and me that things were not as they used to be between us. Each of us wanted more independence. We’ve been together since age 17. Now, at age 22, we have both evolved and changed greatly. Both for the better, I believe, but nevertheless, we grew apart.

I flew to Canada and had many heart to heart conversations with Rebecca. We cried a lot, as we both felt we had a great relationship, and we didn’t want to let it go. And yet, we both knew that we needed time away from the relationship. We decided to take a six months break, that eventually grew into an amicable separation.

Having now finished the army, I felt an urge to ‘see the world!’ In that following year, if to use the words of a friend, “Jonathan travelled all over the place.” I traveled to Jordan for a conference of the international language Esperanto. I travelled to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. I travelled to the United States.

In the following years participated in as many peace activities as I could. I lectured about how Middle East peace was possible. And I moved to Jerusalem, where the need for coexistence and some sanity seemed to me dire.

But the experience that changed me the most was when an intriguing email found its way to my inbox. An email that will eventually get me into the Palestinian Territories again, in what seemed to many like a crazy, nearly suicidal thing to do.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Artists for Peace

October 13th 2011

Age 26

A short email from a good friend gets my attention:

“Jonathan,

Maybe this will interest you.

Hug!”

The attached document has the heading of the “Bereaved Families Forum for Peace.”

If there was ever an organization I had hoped to take a part in its this one.

Back when I was 17 years old and still in College, I looked through books and newspapers and online articles, trying to find a… ray of light. The more I read back then about the conflict, the more depressed I got. Then I read of the Bereaved Families Forum for Peace. I was amazed and inspired to read how it started after a father of a soldier who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas, was keen to meet Palestinian families who lost their children because of the conflict. He and few other Israeli bereaved families met two Palestinian bereaved families. These informal meetings of bereaved families became the Forum. They all lost children, siblings, parents – due to the conflict. And they were brave enough to be willing to meet the other side and say, “We cannot allow it to continue this way.”

I was so moved as I saw, back then, pictures online of a Palestinian mother hugging an Israeli mother. Both lost their sons due to the violence in the region. Something in their hug made me feel more optimistic. ‘If these people,’ I thought, ‘who suffered the most from the conflict, can be as brave as to meet the other side and talk, and try to put an end to the violence – if these people can do it, then I do have hope.’

Back then, at age 17, I was moved to tears when I read that members of the Forum were constantly going to schools, together, to speak to the students; a Palestinian mother, along with an Israeli mother, both lost their sons, speaking to children about non-violence, about reaching to hear and understand the other side. These parents went to both Israeli and Palestinian schools. ‘Imagine!’ I thought, ‘what an effect it can have on the children listening to them, on these future adults, hearing of the pain that violence causes to both sides, learning of the courage in nonviolence…!’

Over the years I often thought of that Forum, and wanted to, one day, be involved with it somehow… but I felt a little awkward to contact them – I was not bereaved and never lost a close family member to the conflict, thank God.

But now, at age 26, I read this email:

“The Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum for Peace invites you to join the Narrative Project. The Forum initiated this project a year ago. The project brings together groups of Israelis and Palestinians from similar disciplines, to meet with one another on a regular basis in order to create mutual understanding and respect. Participants in the project engage through a process called the ‘Parallel Narrative Experience’, which aims to help each side understand the personal and national narratives of the other.”

I kept on reading, fascinated.

“Thus far the Forum held several such ‘Narrative Groups’ of people coming from a specific discipline on both sides of the conflict. Thus far there was a group made of social workers, a group of physicians, a group of mental health specialists, a group of educators and a group of political leaders. We are now seeking to open another group, composed of artists. Artists of all disciplines are welcome to apply.”

Wow. Wow! I kept on reading, glued to the computer screen.

“Participation in the project does not cost money as the project is generously funded by USAID. Meetings will be conducted in Hebrew and Arabic with simultaneous translation, no need for English proficiency. The group will be limited to 15 Israeli artists and 15 Palestinian artists only – hurry to apply.”

Wow. This was… exciting! And… important. I should go, I should definitely go!

All of a sudden I felt inadequate – will they accept me? Do I have enough credentials? Age 26 – is that too young? Am I enough of an “artist”?

I write to the contact person mentioned in the email, a woman called Ricki, attaching my resume and writing a nice cover letter.

A few days later I get a call from this Ricki. She looked at my resume, was impressed by my accomplishments, and wants now to hear more.

I try to give her as much information as I can. I really believe in peace, I explain. I tell her of the Sadaka youth movement, of learning Arabic, of my experience in the college, even of my position in the army in COGAT.

“That is very impressive,” Ricki says. “We have many requests, but, I will let you know.” Then she adds as an afterthought, “We are interested in giving an opportunity to artists that… might not be as aware of the narrative of the other side as you are aware given all your past peace activities…”

Darn! I spoke too much…! I want to correct it, but Ricki says, “Well, I’ll let you know, good luck with everything!”

I hang up and feel like a fool!

That evening I sit down and write to Ricki.

I begin cordially, “It was so nice speaking to you today…” and after few short sentences I get to the point: “I must admit that I might have not presented myself well enough. Though I have taken part in many such programs in my youth, it has been a long time indeed since I have taken an active part in an organized group, and I have never taken a part in a dialogue group focused on artists.”

I sit in front of the computer, staring. Then I add, “I also must admit that my circle of friends in the art world is quite large, and I certainly wish to share with them some of my experience in the meetings at the Narrative Project. In that way, the meetings will have the much needed ripple effect.”

I read it again. It sounds so lame. Why did I tell her of all of the peace stuff, trying to impress her? I’m seriously thinking reapplying as a right wing artist with a different name. Well, no I’m not – well… just a little.

I send that freaking email, crossing my fingers.

The next day Ricki replies with a form for me to fill, and adds that my participation is still not approved and that there were many applicants.

I fill the form and send it back to her fast. I pray it will work out.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. A circle of pain

November 2011

Age 26

On November 14th, 2011, I received an email saying:

“I’m happy to let you know you were chosen to be one of the 15 artists from the Israeli side…”

“YES!” I scream, “yes yes yes!!!”

I keep on reading.

“The first meeting will be of the Israeli participants only. During this meeting you’ll get to know one another, and meet your facilitator, Ms. Anat Marnin.”

I’m excited. I can’t wait.

Then, a few days before Ricki sent us a list with the names of the 15 participants and our different artistic disciplines. Quite a few are painters, three photographers, one sculptor, one glass artist, one curator, one opera singer, two musicians… I got excited. The meeting is to take place at an Arab Jewish community center in Jaffa, not far from the beach.

I arrived early. As people poured in, one by one, they placed their purse or bag on a chair, went to make themselves coffee or tea. I looked at each person. We were all shy. Introverts mostly. Artists.

A few minutes later Anat, a beautiful slim lady with a stylish grey hair, tells us to take our seat.

We begin with a short introduction, each person just saying his or her name and in one sentence which field of art he or she was e in.

After everyone introduced themselves, Anat said, “Well, quite frankly, I am very excited to be a part of this group. I have facilitated many groups as part of the Forum, and I feel a special excitement to be among artists,” she said and smiled, “when I was younger I danced professionally, and something in the atmosphere already created here puts me at ease.”

I noticed how the whole room relaxed as Anat spoke. I wondered all of a sudden, ‘Wait, is she…? How did she get to the bereaved forum… did she…?’

“I will tell you a little about myself,” Anat said, “and then each person will share what brought him or her here.” Anat smiled. “I was born in a kibbutz, a third child to my parents who immigrated to Israel from South America. My older brother, Pinhas – we nicknamed him Pinky – was a leader, a first born. My second older brother, Yair, was mischievous, but always fun and loving. Both of them loved me and spoiled me to bits! When I was sixteen the war broke, the Yom Kippur War. At that time Yair was 19, in the army, and fought in Sinai to defend against the Egyptians. After the war broke Pinky, who was called-up too. Pinky was then 23 and married, with his wife pregnant. Pinky was sent to the Golan Heights to block the Syrians. Then,” Anat sighed, “a few weeks had passed, and we hadn’t heard from him.”

An older woman, a cellist who introduced herself as Abigail, gasped and put her hands on her mouth.

Anat smiled a sad smile. “A few weeks later, army officers came to our house. It turned out that both Pinky and Yair were killed. On the same day,” Anat added, “at the same hour.”

Most of us moved in our seats uncomfortably. A few tut-tutted, nodding their heads in grief. Some let out a heavy sigh.

“And so,” Anat sighed, “the years went by. The pain was… unbearable. But I felt like I needed to be strong, strong for my parents. My father began to write letters to them, talk to them at night, and a few years later died of a broken heart. My mother dealt with it by keeping herself overly busy, never having a dull moment. She kept ‘talking’ to them too, she still does…

“For many years,” Anat continued, “I almost hid my story. I moved from our small town to the big city, didn’t want to share it with anyone, I was selective of who to tell and who not to. The void in my life was huge. I didn’t want to wear it on the outside.

“My mother was always the one to carry the torch of our family’s bereavement. Then, a few years ago, due to her age, she ceased to hold it, so to speak. Then I was facing the question, ‘Should I do anything? What would Pinky and Yair want me to do?’

“I then slowly started to be involved with the Bereaved Families Forum. At first I was only on their mailing list. Then I came to a meeting, then another one, then, over time, I became an active participant. This felt like a family. Bereavement,” Anat sighed, “is something that is hard to explain to those who have never experienced it. I was amazed to see that it also transcends borders. Meeting Palestinians who had similar experiences was eye-opening, and very… encouraging. I found meaning, great meaning, in the work of the Forum.”

Anat paused and smiled, “And so, here we are! Now each of us,” Anat said and looked around the circle, “will share their own experience. Why are you here? What is your relationship with the conflict? Speak personally, of your own experience. Even if you don’t know any bereavement, which I hope you don’t, share your story, and why you chose to take part in this group.”

The evening passed quickly. Personal stories were told, rather quietly. Moving stories of death, friends, fear, hope, sorrow, anger… human emotions, beautifully individual – as well as common to us all.

I shared, too. The fear during the Gulf War. The fear of taking buses. My time in the army.

Each person had their own unique story, their own unique angle.

I was especially moved by the courage of Dana, a photographer who lost her father when a suicide bomber blew up a restaurant in Haifa. She spoke with eloquence and sensitivity, and said that she believes that only dialogue with the other side could prevent the next suicide bomber.

I was also moved when Omer, an interdisciplinary artist, said, “I’m afraid to go next week, into the Territories, I… I have a difficult time with Arabs…”

I hurried to judge him. I thought, ‘Then why are you here?’ Yet in a second I found out what a fool I was to choose judgment over compassion.

“I…” Omer said and sighed, “It’s been many years… I was a soldier. Not a combatant or anything, I was in the Education and Youth Corps… I volunteered to go to help with some weekend program, and headed there. It was a Friday afternoon, and a friend and I sat together at a small kiosk on the road, next to a bus station, playing checkers. There was a guy who sat nearby and who seemed very nervous. I didn’t know if he was Arab or Jewish… Then I noticed he got up and walked behind me…”

Omer sighed.

“All of a sudden I felt him holding me from the back, his two arms surrounding me as he yelled something in Arabic – I… tried to resist, but then – then he… exploded…”

The room was quiet. No one dared say anything.

“Then,” Omer continued, “it was dark. I found myself in a hospital, and spent there… five months…”

He sighed.

“Then I spent another year in rehabilitation. But I’m… I’m well now. That is, if you don’t count the loud explosions I hear regularly in my ears, and recurring traumatic moments that paralyze me for hours sometimes, unable to think clearly.”

I looked at him with compassion. I could relate to his story, him not being a combatant, trying to do something positive in the army…. Many of my friends from high school went to the Education and Youth Corps.

“It’s been ten years,” Omer says, “and still, whenever I hear Arabic spoken, see Arabic written, hear sudden loud sounds, like a motorcycle driving by… I… shut down, and relive this memory…”

There was a silence. Omer’s eyes became moist. He looked at the ground.

Abigail, the cellist, looked at Anat, “Can I ask something?”

Anat nodded.

“Omer,” Abigail said and looked at Omer worriedly. I looked at her. She was the oldest among us. “Can I ask you,” she said slowly, “why did you choose to come here, to this project, aren’t you afraid…?”

“I…” Omer said, “It’s time. It’s time… to confront the fear. It’s time to see if I can put it behind me.”

Some of us moved uncomfortably. I thought, wow. How courageous of him.

This whole group seemed to me so… each person had their own unique story.

Interestingly enough, though we live in the conflict, breathe the conflict, are influenced in our day to day lives by the conflict – news, worries for relatives and friends, areas we are cautious of going to, constantly looking around for signs of danger – though we live it and live in it, the subject of the conflict is nevertheless rarely spoken about.

Sure, there are many political conversations about the conflict. But these usually are slogan-oriented. People talk about ‘the’ conflict, but not about their relationship with the conflict. While people carry stories with them, they rarely do speak about them. It does not feel safe, in an everyday situation, to reveal your wounds just like that. It doesn’t really happen.

I could have been friends with Omer and not have him say more than a laconic phrase about what he had been through. He would have most likely not shared, in an everyday situation, the intimate details he just shared, about how the trauma affects him in his day to day life.

Most likely had I met Anat outside this group it would have taken me a long time to hear from her about her older two brothers who died in the war. She herself mentioned how she moved to the big city to avoid the constant feeling of bereavement which she felt in her parents’ small town.

Had I met Dana it would have taken ages before I’d hear about her dad, killed by a suicide bombing while in a restaurant. I would have never heard Abigail’s story about her grandfather, killed in the 1920 riots in Jerusalem. People hide these details. They do not want to show their pain. So they tuck it away. They compartmentalize it.

Through sharing my own story about the Gulf War and the fear, seeing my parents both so distressed; through sharing my story about constant fear of riding buses, of going to a café or to a mall – through sharing these personal stories of mine, I felt closer to the group. I felt… heard. It didn’t matter that my fears and emotions were ‘common’ and that ‘everyone here has them’ – these were still my stories. My emotions. My fears. And through sharing them with the group I felt closer to the other participants. We all did.

Anat then said we’ll take a short break. I was relieved. The room was tense. People made themselves another cup of coffee or tea. I ran to pee. Each person I passed by – I felt like I knew him or her. Knew their pain. Not everyday do you hear from a person that their grandfather was murdered and their mother was constantly fearful, or that their son is now in the army, and they are really… afraid.

After the break Anat said, “Now I want us to do an activity in which we’ll put ourselves in the shoes of the Palestinian group. This is important for us before we meet them, next weekend. We’ll break into smaller groups of four, and you’ll receive a card introducing you to some scenarios. In each group, please read the scenarios out loud, and then discuss what your action will be.

I was assigned to a group with Dana, the photographer, Gabriel, a young singer-songwriter, and Daniela, another photographer in her mid-40s. We received the card from Anat and began discussing it. “You are the group of 15 Palestinian artists…” the note said.

Over the next hour we went through several scenarios in our small group. Shall we go to the meeting with the ‘Israelis’ if the day prior to the meeting our community center, in which we all met, was demolished by the Israeli army? What if one of us has been arrested and detained, without any trial or explanation – will we still go to the meeting? And what if tomorrow we are to go to a meeting in Jerusalem with all the Israelis, and over half of us don’t receive permits to go – should the rest of us go or rather protest and cancel the meeting?

Having participated in quite a few leadership and activism groups throughout my life, I have come to disdain “group simulations.” But I tried to participate and to play along. The questions, however, were not easy to answer. What if indeed this was our situation. Will we go? If we choose to go, will it mean that we compromise our values, or our dignity? How can we protest or express solidarity with our members who were denied permits, and still go to the meeting with the ‘Israelis’? How will the ones who were denied permits feel?

We expressed our thoughts. On some we agreed, on most we didn’t. Then, finally, after an excruciatingly long time, Anat asked us all to come back and create one big circle.

As we moved around, I noticed the frustration not only within my group’s members, but on everyone’s faces.

Anat smiled, “So, I’m sure this wasn’t the pleasantest of experiences.”

Someone groaned. Abigail said, “It was distasteful!”

“Why distasteful?” Anat asked.

“Because this is… it’s difficult! I don’t know what I would do if we were in their shoes.”

Anat smiled. “In a second each group will present the scenarios they received and what was discussed and decided. But before, I want you to realize that these are difficult scenarios, without any obvious answer. And part of the exercise is to deal with what comes up. In other words, the frustration you are all feeling now is part of this exercise.”

We went on to introduce, each group, its scenarios: the killing of a child of one of the participants; Israeli army’s attack on a school, a curfew on the village of two of the participants, and other such difficult situations.

Some of the participants took the view that no matter what happens, they should still go and meet with the Israelis. “That is the only solution, the only way to somehow give peace a chance,” they said.

Yet others were adamant, “If I were in their shoes and this would happen, of course I wouldn’t go! Me going there justifies what happened, and normalizes the situation, as if what the army did was OK!”

We all were moved. Some were upset, some seemed to withdraw and slouch in their seats.

Eventually Anat spoke again.

“Challenging, right?”

I thought, ‘More than challenging.’

“This exercise was meant for us to realize that the situation is complex. As we speak, this very evening, the Palestinian group is also meeting with their facilitator, Muhammad, and they go through similar exercises, understanding the complexities of our side of the story.”

“You mean,” one of us said, “that they speak of… our stuff?”

“Yes,” Anat said.

“Which kind of stuff?” Omer asked, “Which kind of scenarios do they receive?”

“Things like a suicide bombing,” Anat responded, “an attack of Hamas on Israeli children; a child of one of the members getting killed by a firebomb; Israeli youngsters being kidnapped, and then found dead… and the like.”

I could sense how all of a sudden much of the tension that was built in us began to evaporate.

“You mean,” Abigail said, “that they really think of our side?”

Anat smiled, “As much as you are now thinking of theirs.”

“Good…” Gabriel, the singer-songwriter said and sat up in his chair, “Good, that makes me feel better.”

“Our goal,” Anat said, “is to open ourselves up, both sides, to understand the other side. Not to agree with, but to understand, to hear, to be able to listen.”

Anat then thanked us. She then gave us some details about our next meeting. We all knew from the emails from Ricki that it was a weekend workshop of both sides together, lasting from Friday morning to Saturday evening. Many of us, me included, were worried about the location destined for that weekend workshop.

“But why does it have to be in Beit Jala?” Gabriel asked. We all knew of Beit Jala from the news, being the place from which militants used to shoot at the neighboring Jewish neighborhood, Gilo.

“We had to choose a place,” Anat explained, “to which both Israelis and Palestinians can come. This part of Beit Jala is defined as area C, to which both sides can come without a need of permits. The small hotel in which we’ll be staying is called the Everest, and it’s modest but suitable for our needs. And it’s considered safe.”

No one said anything. I think we were afraid.

I was afraid.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. To the Sound of goblet drums

December 16^th^ 2011

Age 26

The next Friday a little after seven AM we all left Tel Aviv in a bus heading towards Beit Jala.

I spotted Omer. I’ve been thinking of him, of the courage he had to come to this group, a decade after a suicide bomber nearly killed him. “How are you?” I asked.

“I’m… I’m OK,” Omer said.

“Listen,” I said, “if there is anything I can do…”

“Thank you,” he said and smiled a grim smile.

I wanted to tell him how courageous I felt he was, giving this a chance. I wanted to tell him that in any moment, if the meeting gets intense, or if anything triggers a memory, then, I’m there for him. But I said nothing. Man to man… sometimes much that needs to be said remains unspoken.

We drove to Beit Jala, driving past Jerusalem and the Jerusalem hills. We kept climbing up on a winding road, until we finally parked near a modest sign that stated “The Everest Hotel”.

I saw some of the members being a little apprehensive about coming down. I knew this feeling very well. So after Anat climbed down the bus I hurried to join her. One by one, all the Israeli artists climbed down.

As we entered the lobby of the four-story hotel, a man noticed us and exclaimed “Anat!”

“Muhammad!” Anat exclaimed. They hugged and then began talking. I looked at them, inspired, a little jealous of their close bond. Who was this Muhammad?

Then I saw some people, Arabs, Palestinians. Among them one woman. Shyness. We want to approach but don’t know how. Luckily, Anat and Muhammad directed us all upstairs. We were told to leave the bags and suitcases at the lobby.

Climbing up to the third floor, I could see from the windows in the stairway a stunning view of the Judean Mountains. ‘What a beautiful land,’ I thought.

We entered a large room with many chairs set up in a big circle. A man in his forties handed each of us a set of headphones. I took a set and picked a seat.

I looked around at the sitting preference of people, three Palestinians, then four Israelis, then five Palestinians, three Israelis, four Palestinians… we sat kind of mixed, kind of not.

Shukran, nidhul. Ismi Muhammad u-ana…” Muhammad began speaking in Arabic.

In my headphones I began hearing, “Thank you, we’ll begin. My name is Muhammad and I am…”

I looked at the translator, who handed us all the headsets. A forty year old, agile, thin man. He spoke perfect Hebrew, but he was clearly Arab. Where did he learn his Hebrew?

“I am a member,” Muhammad continued, “of the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families Forum for Peace, for quite a few years now,” I heard the translator say. Muhammad continued, “I will introduce myself better in a moment. But for now, I want to welcome you, and thank you all for your courage to come here.”

I heard the word “courage” and was touched. I felt validated. It did take some courage to come, that’s for sure. Not only security wise, but also emotionally. On our way here I told myself, ‘God, please don’t make it yet another event in which I hear Palestinians blaming and attacking Israel. Please don’t make it another time in which all the blame, all one hundred percent of it, is shoved into my face and down my throat. Please make it a real, heart to heart, respectful weekend…’

It did take courage to be there. At least for me. I got a little intimidated seeing that most of the Palestinian artists group, 14 out of 15, were men. Only one woman. And many of them were older. Some had a very stern look. As if they were judging me before I even opened my mouth. As if the mere fact of me being Israeli, Jewish, made me guilty.

This was after college, where I opened up through Amal and Jenin. But it was still before I began to take a more active part in the peace scene, before meeting Riman and creating the Hallelujah gathering in Jerusalem, before doing so many other things. I was 26 years old. True, I was more open for dialogue than most Israelis, but still, I was…

Today, as I write these words five years later, I have compassion for the Jonathan who sat there, closed up, as if ready to get punched, ready to defend himself and his story.

‘I’m willing to be here,’ I thought, ‘but I’m not willing to get bullied and wronged and blamed and portrayed as the bad guy without you guys taking any responsibility for your part in the conflict!’

Then Anat interrupted my thoughts. I heard her speak, yet there was noise in my ear – oh, the translation was now into Arabic. I took my headphones off, as the Palestinians hurried to put theirs on.

Anat also thanked us all for coming. She said that this day was going to focus on our own ‘narratives’. “A ‘narrative,” Anat explained, “is each person’s unique personal story. It is a story. A story means that it is not right or wrong, not true or false, not to be proven correct or incorrect. It is their story, their ‘narrative’. And in this circle,” Anat said, “all the narratives are welcome, without judgment, without trying to prove one right or wrong.”

Muhammad added, and I hurried to put the headphones back on, “We do not want you to agree with one another. Let me assure you that many of the stories you’ll hear – of the other side, the Israeli side, the Palestinian side – will upset you. We did not come to agree, we came to listen. We will listen to each person’s story, however long it may take.” Then he added, “We also didn’t come to make peace today, not to sign any agreement or to shake hands on the news.”

I saw some of us smiling. Muhammad seemed to have touched a nerve. “All we want you,” he continued, “is to be open, to hear, to listen, to be present. That’s all.”

Anat smiled. There was a moment of silence, as she breathed and looked around the room. She then said, “I will begin.”

Anat went on to tell her story, which we, the Israeli side, had heard a week ago. It seemed, however, to touch her more this time. It almost seemed as if she had told us, the Israelis, the story as a matter of fact. Here, she spoke of it with more details. She spoke of her parents after the death of her two brothers. She spoke of her inability to fill the gap, the void that they left.

“I still talk to them,” Anat admitted, “they will always be with me, my older brothers: always so wise, knowing what to say, how to embrace their little sister. I’m still their little Anat… It’s just that now Pinkie is 23 years old, Yair is 19 years old, and I’m, little Anat, is 54.”

Anat took a breath, sighed, and I saw her eyes moist with tears.

Then Muhammad spoke. “I was born in 1978,” he began.

I thought, David, my older brother, was also born in 1978, seven years before me. That meant that Muhammad was 33 years old.

“When the first Intifada-uprising broke,” Muhammad said, “I was nearly ten years old. I saw many older kids throwing stones at the soldiers, the soldiers shooting back at them, at adults, at kids. I tried to make sense of it all, but didn’t really understand ‘why?’ Why was there an uprising? Why were we fighting? What did those soldiers want from us? Why is our life that way?

“When I was 12,” Muhammad continued, “I walked to school along with my brother, Firas. As we walked we heard the noise from the stone throwing and shooting. I had a feeling that school would be cancelled, and told Firas that we should take a look at what’s happening. As we neared the havoc we heard the sound of bullet fire, and before I could understand what was happening, I felt an enormous pain in my belly, I fell on the ground and lost my consciousness.

“I opened my eyes to find myself in a hospital room. I didn’t know how I had gotten there. But I was so happy to see my parents, and my brother Firas standing near me. ‘Why am I here?’ I asked Firas. Then all of a sudden I felt a pain in my belly. Firas told me ‘Muhammad, you’re fine. You just got three rubber bullets shot at you.”

Muhammad paused. “Then I began to understand, and get the answers to my questions. I understood what it meant to live under occupation. I understood what these soldiers were in my village, what they wanted… I understood why we were throwing stones, and what was the meaning of resistance to the occupation. I understood it all.

“My brother and I, though, also just wanted to just live our lives. We grew up, we had many dreams. I finished high school, got accepted to university. Firas also went to university. Then, on our holiday at the end of the month of Ramadan, Firas wanted us to go to some celebration. I was tired, and wanted to stay home. I also knew that there was some violence going on and that things were tense, so I told him he shouldn’t go. He reassured me, saying, ‘It’s our holiday, it will be quiet.’

“In the early morning I awoke when my other brother woke me up, saying, ‘Our Firas, our Firas!’

“I got out of bed, drowsy, and saw there were many people in the house. I looked at my father, his face was white, the only word he uttered was my brother’s name.

“I ran out of the house. I wanted to run, I was crazed. My friends caught me outside and restrained me, held me tight. We then hurried, my whole family, to the hospital. There we saw Firas. It was…”

All of a sudden Muhammad’s closed his eyes. His hands found their way into between his knees, as he pressed his legs tightly to one another. “It was,” he said, “Firas, but not my beautiful brother. He was… instead of his face he had two bullet holes. His body was filled with bullets. He was shot 27 times. I fainted.”

He paused.

I moved uncomfortably in my seat.

“Then,” Muhammad continued, “I woke up, and thought that it was just a dream, just a bad dream. But,” he sighed, his lips tightened, “it was not.”

Muhammad continued, “People told me he had no weapon, did nothing, was just walking near the checkpoint when they… That’s how he died. He was about to finish university. He was in his final year of his MBA.

“That day was February 23rd, 2002. My life was to never be the same again. I quit my job. I avoided my friends. My dreams – they were gone. I wanted revenge. I began planning how to take revenge.

“My frustration,” Muhammad continued, “went to the ceiling when all of a sudden my father did something that I thought of as a betrayal. A betrayal of my family, a betrayal of Firas’ memory. One month after Firas’ death he joined the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families Forum for Peace. I was… shocked. I told him ‘How can you go to speak with the people who killed your son?’ I felt so betrayed that he would do such a thing. I stopped talking to him.”

I looked at Muhammad and thought, “Wow.” I could understand why he felt ‘betrayed’. I was wondering at the turn of events that led him here, right now, to this room with us, co-facilitating with Anat.

“Over time,” Muhammad said, “I began talking again with my father. Yet I was unwilling to say yes to any of his many invitations to come to the Forum. As the years passed, eventually, my curiosity grew. Eventually I was so curious, I couldn’t stop myself from coming, just once. Then I came, and was… I saw a Palestinian mother who had lost her son, and next to her was an Israeli mother, who just like her, lost her son because of the conflict. Each of them told her story. They said that their pain was the same pain. Nowanted to lose her son.”

Muhammad sighed, “And that… then something began shifting in me. I came again, and then again, and eventually became a full participant in the Forum.

“Firas,” Muhammad said, and I could feel his pain as he pronounced his brother’s name, “nothing that I’ll do will return him. Nothing!” he sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “I understood that if I hurt the other side, if I hurt the Israeli people, it will not return my brother, my Firas. And if I hurt them, then this pain,” he said and looked at Anat seated next to him, “this pain will only grow.

“Nowadays I do as many of these meetings as I can,” Muhammad said, “especially going to Israeli schools and talking to the teens there. It’s not easy, it’s very hard, but to me it really is the only way.”

Muhammad then looked at the person sitting next to him, a man in his fifties, and said, “Yalla, Yasser, your turn!”

The man, Yasser, looked at him sheepishly, and said something in Arabic. They conversed back and forth, and I heard the translator repeating Muhammad’s words, “Then just say why are you here.”

Yasser seemed reluctant to be the first to speak, and then said, in a low, deep voice. “My name is Yasser. I… I chose to come here because I was interested to see the other side. When I heard of this group I said, ‘If there are good Israelis I want to see them with my own eyes.’”

Yasser stared at the floor. There was dignity in his posture, but he seemed reluctant to continue. Muhammad told him to share what he’s doing in his day to day life.

“I’m a writer,” Yasser said, “I write about education and social issues. I also write poetry.”

Muhammad said one more thing to him. Yasser said, “I know personally many people who have become martyrs. But here I want to listen more than I want to talk,” he said firmly.

Muhammad looked at the person sitting next to Yasser. He was a young man, wearing a Palestinian headdress scarf around his neck. He said to Muhammad, “But I can speak English too.”

Muhammad said in Arabic, and I deciphered some of it: “Nassib, not everyone understand English here. Go ahead, Ahmad will translate you well.”

Nassib nodded. “Hello, I’m Nassib, I’m a graphic designer from Ramallah. I studied graphic design in Bir Zeit University. I was not involved in any armed resistance. But I am also against the occupation…”

Nassib went on to describe his day to day life, in which he constantly gets harassed by Israeli soldiers when he wants to visit Jerusalem, or visit a friend in Nablus or elsewhere. He said that the occupation needs to end, and if there were more Israelis “like you”, he said and pointed at us, “then the government in Israel will change and will do what is right.”

Now it was Dana’s turn, sitting near Nassib. As she began speaking, I heard the translation in my head, and all of us Israelis hurried to take our headphones off. Dana went on to tell of her art and photography. Then she looked at Anat, and Anat nodded back to her, reassuringly.

“My father immigrated to Israel before I was born, from Argentina,” Dana said, “He was a very loving man. Always loved life, to have fun, to live every day to its fullest. He was against people hiding in their homes whenever the political situation was tense, whenever violence would escalate. He always said we should head out. Nine years ago, on March 31st 2002, my sister called me, hysterical, ‘There was a bombing in Haifa! There was a bombing in a restaurant in Haifa! I just watched the news and there was a bombing!’

“‘Relax,’ I told her. ‘Have you tried to call Dad?’

“‘I did, his phone is not responding!!! And I saw his car on the news next to the restaurant!’”

“‘Dad’s car?’ I asked, ‘How did you know it was his?’

“‘They showed it from the back, it had all the stickers on the rear windshield, the ones I put there…!’”

Dana sighed.

“In that moment I started to feel… sick.

“It turned out my dad was one of the people killed there, in that suicide bombing. He was 50. He had a girlfriend. He was to marry her that summer.”

The room was silent.

“After some time I joined the Forum, and I still try to find my place here. It still feels odd to me that I am ‘bereaved’, that we are a ‘bereaved family’. My dad was so not… political… He just wanted to live in peace…” Dana sighed, “All I hope is that this weekend we can grow closer and really listen to one another.”

Then the next person spoke. Each person spoke during his or her turn. I don’t remember what each person said, it all mixed together to a mosaic of agony. Phrases like “Then I heard that my cousin was killed”; “My best friend was shot”; “Because of that that I sat in an Israeli jail for three years”; “My aunt was in that bus, and was killed on the spot”; “We stood there in the rain, treated like animals, the soldiers pointing their rifles at us”; “I woke up knowing that something was wrong, then my friend called me”; “I had nightmares of being attacked again”; “I can still hear her baby crying…”

When my turn came, I was nearly speechless. My head began to hurt too. I introduced myself, told of my immigrant parents; of the anti-Semitism they experienced in Russia; of the fear I felt during the first Gulf War; of the art weekend in Nablus; of studying in Canada, of contemplating not to do the military service… of my work at COGAT… I spoke of my hope that things will get better here, so I could raise my children here without fear.

I felt like nothing I said was grand, shocking, or even deserving to be heard. And yet, in sharing, in speaking, I felt closer to the others in the room.

After some two hours we finished the first session, and Muhammad and Anat announced a 15 minute break. I ran to pee and refill my water bottle. When I returned I noticed how smokers, both Palestinians and Israelis, had an excuse to start a conversation. I told myself, “You really should consider the social benefits of smoking!” But then, smiling, I went over to the only woman among the Palestinian participants, and struck up a conversation.

Wazeera introduced herself earlier as a graphic designer. She was 23 years old, unmarried, and had a beautiful smile. We spoke a little bit in broken English and broken Arabic. She was impressed with my Arabic, and I complimented her on her English. Muhammad and Anat then asked us all to sit back down so that we could continue.

The following session was similar to the first, going again in a circle, each speaking, without interruption, judgment, criticism. “I’m reminding you,” Muhammad said with an amused face, “we’re not signing any peace agreement, no television teams are waiting outside the hotel. It’s just us. Share your story, and what hearing the others made you feel.” Anat hurried to add, “Without judgment as much as possible, without trying to set someone straight on the actual facts. It’s your personal story, your personal thoughts, your personal emotions that we are encouraging you to share.”

This time, too, Anat and Muhammad began, each sharing more of their own story, as well as some thoughts they had during the last session. We then each spoke. When one round was completed, we continued to another.

More stories. Memories of soldiers. Memories of parents surviving the Holocaust. Memories of the wars. Of fighting. Stories about the Arab grandmother that was forced to leave her home in Jaffa, and stories about the Jewish grandfather who was killed in the riots in Jerusalem. Story after story. It felt to me like a bath of sorrow, as if I was steeped in human suffering.

I saw compassion in people’s eyes. The more people spoke, the more I noticed how people were becoming less stiff.

These were sensitive issues, though. As we finished the second session and were directed downstairs for lunch, I noticed how few Palestinians, mostly from the younger members, were approaching Abigail.

Abigail was one of the last to speak in the session that just ended. She told how her grandfather was murdered by an Arab mob in the 1920 “Nebi Musa” riots, in which Muslims walked into the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem, yelling, “Massacre all the Jews,” “Palestine is our land, the Jews are our dogs,” and “Muhammad’s religion was born with the sword.”

As she spoke, I saw how her words upset some of the Palestinian members in the group. Abigail said how these riots came against innocent civilian Jews, before there were any organized militias to protect them. She described how the mob set on fire several homes, including the Rabbinical School. The British soldiers, Abigail said, didn’t protect the Jews, but sometimes even joined the riots. Her grandfather was an agronomist, and he was killed by two Arabs who stabbed him to death in front of his home. Her grandmother was left to take care of her eight children on her own, one of which was Abigail’s father.

Abigail spoke with tears in her eyes, and said to the Arabs, “So don’t think that your grandparents were all clean and that we started it all. These riots were created in your mosques, and they began the bloodshed.”

I could see when she spoke how her words evoked both empathy and anger. Therefore when I saw Wazeera and three of the Palestinian men approaching her as we went to lunch, I lingered around them, just to make sure Abigail was OK.

Conversation ensued in English, as one of the Palestinians asked Abigail, “Are you sure it was not the British who killed him?”

“My father’s cousin saw the two men with his own eyes,” Abigail said in English and gestured at her eyes.

The conversation continued, as I marveled at how events that took place nearly a hundred years ago were so relevant and painful to all of us today.

“It is against Islam to attack innocent civilians!” Nassib, the young artist from Ramallah, said.

Wazeera said with her broken English, “I’m sorry for you!” She put her hand on Abigail’s wrinkled hand, “I’m really, really sorry for you… your grandmamma having to then raise all the kids on her own herself!”

Abigail’s eyes became moist as she looked at Wazeera and exclaimed, “Come here!” and hugged her. They hugged.

I saw that Abigail was in good hands, and so hurried downstairs for lunch. I found a surprisingly lavish lunch. That was exactly what I needed, I was so emotional by then, that food brought me much comfort.

The day later unfolded with much talking. I pulled out my sketchbook, and asked Anat if it’s OK if I sketch a little. Anat said, “If you feel like it’s OK, then it’s OK, I trust your judgment.”

Every now and then, when someone was becoming teary, I paused sketching.

Nassib sat next to me at the last session of the day, and asked for a paper and a pen. He too sketched and doodled during that session. I thought that for him, like for me, sketching made it easier to withstand the high emotions in the room.

Dinner was even better than lunch. After the meal the owner of the Everest Hotel brought us large trays of Baklava, a sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and honey. It was so good, I ate a few and almost got a tummy ache. As we all ate and sipped the traditional Arab tea, Leah, the Israeli opera singer in our group, stood up and began singing some opera aria. She had a beautiful voice, and I could see that the Palestinians were impressed.

Then one of the Palestinians, a guy called Khassan, stood and sang two songs in Arabic. I liked his voice. After few songs, he began, to my astonishment, to sing the chorus of a famous Israeli song sang by Israeli pop singer Sarit Hadad. I joined him, clapping along, as I knew the lyrics well from weddings and all. I thought of getting up and dancing. But… no one was dancing… ‘Come on Jonathan!’ I told myself, ‘you wanna dance, so get up and dance!’

Then I got up, went over to Anat, and extended my hand to her while beginning to dance in an Eastern style, with low kicks and arabesques, like I perfected in the college. Anat began laughing, threw her head backwards, and when she saw I was not letting go, finally got up and joined me, her cheeks blushing.

The hotel owner hurried to push one of the long tables to the side so that we’d have more space to dance, and Nassib grabbed a goblet drum and began drumming to the beat. Then Yasser, the reticent writer, got up and to my astonishment joined us, dancing traditional Palestinian Dabke moves.

Khassan went on to sing a few Umm Kulthum songs, some of which I recognized from my teens, when I’d go with my father to videotape Arab weddings in Lod and its surroundings. More goblet drums were brought by the hotel owner, and few more people got up to dance, while the others clapped and cheered.

Eventually I was so sweaty I grabbed some water and sat down. When one of the songs came to an end, Khassan invited Gabriel, who stood shyly by the wall holding his guitar.

Gabriel seemed reluctant, so we shouted for him to come. Abigail commanded, “Gabriel, we want to hear you, child!”

Gabriel then smiled and went on to sing somber quiet songs which he wrote himself.

There is something about music… I cannot really capture in words what the singing did. We all knew each other for barely a day, but the music was… so… bonding. I closed my eyes and realized I was tired, really tired.

The evening slowly gave way to small conversations in different levels of English proficiency. Exhausted, I disappeared to the room. Gabriel, whose suitcase was on his bed, was still in the main hall downstairs. I got organized for bed, and then laid there, with my eyes open, thinking of the day. ‘This could possibly be,’ I thought, ‘the most emotional day I ever experienced. A roller coaster. So much pain and agony, and now, during the evening, so much empathy, joy, love.

I fell asleep, dreaming of a different Middle East.

#
h1<>{color:#000;}. Sabbath in Beit Jala

December 16^th^ 2011

Age 26

I woke up to the sound of my cellphone’s alarm clock. Where am I? I looked at the room. Some guy was sleeping on a bed across from me. Was I in the army?

Then I remembered, I’m in Beit Jala.

I hurried to brush my teeth and headed downstairs for breakfast. A few of us were already there. I took a seat and ate quietly. People were still waking up, it seemed. I looked at each person’s face. Here’s the guy who told of how the army took them all out of the house at night and beat them. Here’s the man who spoke about his sister’s husband sitting in jail, him having to help her raise her kids. Here’s Nassib, the graphic designer, who spoke about the humiliation in the checkpoints.

Here’s Abigail. Grandfather.

Here’s Wazeera. Four hours in checkpoint.

Here’s Muhammad. Brother. 27 bullets.

Anat. Two brothers.

I ate quietly.

We opened that day’s first session with a round of sharing how we were doing. Anat began, saying she has not danced like that for years. And she said she was happy to be a part of such a vivacious narrative group. “Let me just say,” she smiled, “that with the previous group, of reporters and journalists from both sides, it wasn’t as jolly…”

Muhammad shared how he was reminded last night of how much he enjoys these meetings. He then warned that though last night was enjoyable, we still had much to discuss, and that pain will still show up. He reminded us about the guidelines of not criticizing or judging one another, and to focus on sharing what we feel.

Each person shared. Compliments were given to the singers. Omer and one of the Palestinian members, an artist called Ibrahim, spoke about their long conversation into the night.

I listened to Omer attentively. I remembered that I was worried for him, but in the midst of it all I forgot to check on him. Omer said, “Ibrahim and I spoke about political art and activism, about music, about religions…” He smiled, “I couldn’t stop thinking how this conversation must have looked like to an outsider: a former soldier, who was attacked by a Palestinian wearing his explosive belt – talking to a Palestinian student, a talented artist, who sat for three years in an Israeli jail after trying to attack an army checkpoint. I… it’s surreal,” he said. Then he added, “Good surreal.”

Ibrahim was next. “In the checkpoints, when the soldiers come to your house, when they shoot at youngsters, you don’t get to really meet them and talk with them. There is no voice of reason, no conversation. If everyone, all the Palestinians and all the Israelis would sit like us, like this, together – then no Israeli will dare shoot a child, no one will dare to use violence.”

When my turn came I shared with the group that I found it extraordinary how within one day we could come to feel so close. That there was a lot of power, in my eyes, in the way the day was constructed, with sessions like this. I said I was afraid, originally, that we would run into political arguments, and that I would have to withdraw and disappear into my sketchbook. I said that I am proud of all of us, of our openness to be here.

After that round we were told we’d take a short break, and then we’d meet in the next session two historians who will talk to us about the conflict from the collective national narratives.

I was both intrigued and worried. History in our region meant politics. Why should we delve into politics now?

As we entered the room for the next session, we saw two men sitting in the front of the room. Muhammad and Anat introduced them to us as Dr. Ismail Ahmadi and Dr. Ben Jacobson. Muhammad said that they will introduce to us a little bit of the collective narrative of each side. Anat added that they will not be able to cover everything, as they each were given 45 minutes. They will only touch the highlights, and we should not feel offended if they omit anything that we see as important. “This is only an overview,” she explained, “given by two scholars. It should help us to understand the other side’s collective narrative just a little bit more. That’s all.”

I was intrigued to hear the Palestinian narrative.

Moreso, I was intrigued to hear how the Israeli narrative would be portrayed.

The first to speak was Dr. Ahmadi. He went to describe a connection to the land for thousands of years, with many linking current day Palestinians to the ancient Canaanites. He went on to describe 400 years of Turkish Rule in the region, which was relatively calm yet somewhat oppressive toward the local population. He described the 1917 British declaration given by Foreign Secretary Balfour to leaders of the European Jewish community, that stated that Britain views “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. He said that Britain had no right over the land, and it was colonialist motives that moved it to give it to the Jewish people. He said that Britain simply gave away what was not theirs to give in the first place.

He described the British Mandate over the land, from 1920 to 1948 as years of struggle, in which the British notably favored the growing Jewish population over the Arab population. He said of the 1947 partition plan offered by the UN that it was a sham for the Palestinian people, as it divided their land, and gave the Jews most of it, leaving Palestinians with less than a half of the land. “Of course we weren’t willing to accept it!” he said.

Dr. Ahmadi then spoke in length about the 1948 war, which resulted in what Palestinians call “disaster”, with more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes during war. He did note that some were possibly not “expelled” but rather “fled”, and that it was natural for them to do following the horrors told of the massacre in Deir Yassin in which whole families were executed by Jewish militias.

I saw many of the Israelis shifting in their seats uncomfortably. I felt for them, I remember the first time I heard the Palestinian narrative, unfolding in long discussions with Amal and Jenin in the College… For most of my fellow Israeli artists this was the first time to hear this narrative being told so thoroughly. Unfortunately our media does not tell it. Not this way.

Dr. Ahmadi went on to describe the ensuing 19 years under both Egyptian rule in the Gaza Strip, and under Jordanian rule in the West Bank. He described these years as years in which Palestinians slowly became disillusioned with the leadership of the Arab nations, understanding that they were not going to liberate Palestine for them, and return the many refugees to their homes. This eventually led to the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 with the purpose of the “Liberation of Palestine.”

He went on to describe the 1967 Six-Day War as yet another disaster for the Palestinians. “In that war there was further displacement that accompanied Israel’s new control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” He described the Israeli military regime in the land, and the beginning of the creation of Jewish settlements in the new occupied territories, though it was against international law.

Dr. Ahmadi sighed and continued. He described how the Jewish occupation, the expansion and establishment of new settlements, as well as violence from the ruling Israeli army, led to the first uprising of the Palestinian people in 1987. This uprising, or in Arabic, Intifada, was to express the injustice done to the Palestinian people.

I moved uncomfortably in my seat, wondering if this would keep going for long.

Dr. Ahmadi then went on to describe the Oslo Accords in the 1990’s as time of great hope for the Palestinians, having their own new government led by the PLO. He then described the disappointment from Israel’s unilateral steps, an increase in the expansion of settlements, blockades, violence, as well as denying of work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel.

Then, rather suddenly, Dr. Ahmadi finished his lecture. I took my headphones off, as Dr. Jacobson began speaking. He began speaking of the ancient kingdom of Judah, the diaspora and the explosion of the Jews to exile. He said that a few Jewish communities did remain in the land over the centuries, in Jerusalem and Hebron, as well as in the Galilean cities Safed and Tiberias.

Dr. Jacobson went on to speak of nationalism in Europe, and the evolvement of the concept of a Jewish nation state, that would serve as a refuge from persecution to the Jews. He went on to describe migration to the land beginning in the 19th century. He described the violence from the Arab population in 1920 onwards. He spoke of the massacres in Hebron and in Jaffa, and the need the Jews felt to organize a Jewish militia, as the new British rule often did not give adequate protection to the Jewish communities. He spoke of the 1947 UN Partition plan, and how many Jews did not want to accept it as many areas were excluded in the new Jewish state proposed, including Nahariya, Hebron and Kfar Etzion. Yet the Jewish leadership accepted it understanding that whatever could be achieved diplomatically is better than the perils of war.

He then described the violence that ensued in the following year, especially upon the withdrawal of the British from the land, and the subsequent declaration of independence of Israel, leading to Israel being attacked by five armies.

Dr. Jacobson then spoke of the Farhud, the violent expulsion of Jews from Muslim countries. Over the following years more than 850,000 Jews left their homes in Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and many more, in what is known as the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. These ‘Jewish refugees’ were then absorbed into the emerging Israeli state.

I looked around the room, trying to see how the Palestinians react to this notion. The term “refugees” was always used towards the Palestinians, and rarely used to describe the massive and often violent expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. I couldn’t decipher what they were thinking. But they listened, which was a big deal nevertheless.

Dr. Jacobson went on to describe the wars, and gave special attention to the 1973 Yom Kippur war, which Dr. Ahmadi did not mention. He said that this war was the bloodiest and most traumatic for Israel, which was launched by the Arab armies in our holy day of mourning and fasting.

I couldn’t not look at Anat’s sealed face. Both her brothers were casualties of that war.

Dr. Jacobson described the peace efforts of the 1990’s, and the disillusionment of Israeli society with the PLO and its chairman Arafat, and what seemed as his unwillingness to bring about peace. He explained that while Israelis felt that they were giving land back, nearly tearing Israeli society apart, Arafat did not do much to stop terrorists from attacking Israeli civilians, a trend that only grew following the peace accords and eventually led to the failure of the Oslo Accords.

Finally Dr. Jacobson stressed that the vast majority of Israelis want peace and are willing to give up land for peace, but feel disillusioned with the willingness of the Arab side to let Israel exist in peace.

Then Muhammad addressed us, “We have few minutes for questions before lunch. Any questions?”

Only a few questions were asked. I think we were all a little tired, hungry, and somewhat unwilling to unravel the past. Last night there was a sense of euphoria. I sensed that picking at the scabs of the past made us all a little uneasy. Sure, we did want the other side to be told of our own scabs, but didn’t want to hear of how we inflicted scabs on them.

Finally, Dr. Jacobson told us that part of what perpetuates the conflict is the lack of understanding of the other side’s narrative. “Much of what is taught in schools in both sides,” he said, “totally excludes the other side’s narrative.” He then pulled a book from his bag, “This is why we took part, Dr. Ahmadi and myself, in a project led by Palestinian and Israeli history scholars, in which we worked for several years to put together this history textbook to present the narratives of both sides.”

He said that similar textbooks were written by scholars in Germany and France following the end of War World II, and that it is said that these common textbooks were part of what helped solve the conflict between the two countries.

I couldn’t not think of a similar project about which I read while still in college, led by the Peace Research Institution for the Middle East, PRIME. I raised my hand and asked, “This is similar to a project done by PRIME, right?”

Dr, Jacobson seemed bewildered and exclaimed, “This is the PRIME project! How do you know of it?”

Everyone looked at me. I said sheepishly, “I just… read about it, some years ago…”

Dr. Jacobson seemed pleased, “This is why we are here, to let you all know that this book is out, and covers the history into the 2000s, and we hope for it to be spread.”

Wazeera raised her hand. “Do they teach it in schools?”

Dr. Ahmadi said with a grim face, “Unfortunately it is banned by the Ministries of Education in both sides…”

A gasp of disappointment passed between us all. Dr. Ahmadi then quickly added, “But some daring teachers teach it nonetheless, sometimes in their homes in after school hours.”

I thought of how ridiculous it was that in the 21st century teachers need to teach in their homes instead of in schools because of the timidity of their governments.

When the questions ended everyone hurried to lunch. I escorted Dr. Jacobson to his car, and thanked him for giving the presentation, as well as for writing the textbook.

“I was just one member of a large group of authors,” he said.

“Nevertheless,” I said, “thank you!”

I asked to buy a copy of the textbook, and he signed my copy with “To Jonathan, with appreciation and friendship, Ben Jacobson.”

I still cherish this book today, sitting in front of me as I write these lines. Titled “Side by Side”, this textbook literally shows the two narratives side by side. On the left page is the Palestinian narrative, and on the right page is the Israeli narrative. The book follows the decades of the 20th century showing each event side by side, so that readers can track each against the other, noting both where they differ as well as where they correspond. I open it from time to time. And I still long for the day that the Ministries of Education on both sides embrace this textbook.

During lunch I was amused to hear similar complaints from both the Israeli members as well as from the Palestinian members. Quite a few people said that their side was portrayed inadequately. Each said, “Your doctor was good, but ours didn’t really convey the true suffering of my people.”

I ate, listening to complaints from both sides, and didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

Telling of each person’s personal pain, when people are guided to listen respectfully, proved to be powerful and bridging experience yesterday. However telling the national narrative seemed to create a gap and to be rather divisive.

Therefore I was relieved that after lunch we went back to the familiar circle, each sharing their own thoughts and feelings.

People shared that the presentations made them depressed. “So much bloodshed,” some said.

Yet others said “But there’s hope. With us meeting. With these textbooks…”

After that session Anat and Muhammad asked us to form groups of four, two Israelis and two Palestinians in each. I sat with Dana Nassib, and Khassan.

Anat said that the following hour will be dedicated to us discussing our art with one another. “You may have some language challenges,” she said, “as our translator Ahmad will not be able to be with you and translate in each group, but do your best. You can also go and sit wherever you want, but be back by four thirty here for the last session of the day.”

People were excited, some went to bring their laptops, some moved down to the dining hall. Dana said, “Here, let’s go somewhere more quiet.”

I offered my room, and soon we all went to the room I shared with Gabriel. Gabriel was in one of the other groups, so we had the room for the four of us.

Khassan began, by reading to us a love poem he wrote. He read the Arabic so that we could hear the alliteration. Then he translated, with the help of Nassib, who spoke better English. Though much was probably lost in translation I nevertheless sensed that I was getting the gist of it, enjoying Khassan’s beautiful metaphors.

Dana smiled and asked, “So who’s the special one?”

Khassan seemed embarrassed, and said, “I can’t say her name. She is very special. I hope to be able to get…” He looked at Nassib and asked for the word in Arabic.

“Engaged,” Nassib said.

“Engaged!” Khassan exclaimed, a little loud, and we all laughed.

“Inshallah,” I said.

Then Dana showed us two short films that she made. These were two artistic films. The first showed a young girl in a field, running, then disappearing, then reappearing and running again. The other short 4-minutes film showed a train ride, looking at the passengers. Yet it wasn’t a regular train ride, as through the window Dana replaced the view into that of a park with flamingos wandering around freely.

“It’s about the tension between the interior and the exterior of things,” she explained. Then, the video showed a girl’s body with a bodysuit. On the belly area there was a zipper, and as the girl opened zipper, a view of farm country was shown through the girl’s body, as if viewed from a train ride.

Nassib exclaimed, “You did that?”

Dana nodded.

Nassib said, “Wow.”

Dana smiled. “Now show us something of yours.”

Nassib pulled his smartphone and showed us some images that he designed on Photoshop. These were images of his grandfather, who passed away.

Nassib modified these images to portray his grandfather as a saint, placing a golden aura behind him.

“You liked him a lot, right?” I asked.

“Oh, he was like my best friend,” Nassib said.

Dana asked, “What did he die of?”

“Heart complications,” Nassib said, “but he was old…”

When my turn came I shared with them few photos on my cellphone screen of my paintings of Jerusalem. I showed how I incorporated all three religions into the same painting as a sign of coexistence. Khassan commented that the colors were really bright. “Right,” I said, and then explained to them about naïve art, known for having bright colors, warped perspective, and depicting scenes of utopia. Nassib asked about the composition, whether it was based on a photo or on imagination. I said that mostly on my imagination. I then spoke in detail about the surreal composition.

Nassib smiled, “I wish Jerusalem will look like that!”

I thought to myself that in an odd way these three, Dana, Khassan and Nassib, were becoming closer to me than many of my Israeli friends: when was the last time I spoke about my paintings and my hidden messages in such details? And more so, being asked questions in such an eager manner? Not often.

After that session we all gathered back in the main room. Tables were set up there with many materials, papers, crayons, paints.

Muhammad said, “This will be our last session for this weekend, and we wanted to give you some free hand.”

Anat added, “Feel free to express yourselves in any way you’d like. What we feel, what you learned – through whichever type of art. We don’t want to limit you at all, anything you want to do, please feel free to do. Follow your heart and your creation.”

I looked at the people approaching the tables, and I thought – I’ve been sketching all weekend in my notebook. I was not so interested in doing any large work together with the others (such a snub – been there, done that, age 11!).

I saw Daniela, the Israeli photographer, pulling her camera out with the excitement of a child. I saw the Khassan sitting down to write on a remote chair near the window. A poem?

What should I do?

Then I saw Yasser, who last night surprised us dancing some Palestinian Dabke dances. “Yasser,” I said to him, “can you teach me some… Dabke?”

“What?” he asked back.

“You – teach – me – Dabke,” I asked in Arabic.

Yasser seemed puzzled. He pointed at himself, then at me, and then said “Dabke?”

“Yes!” I said eagerly.

Yasser said nothing and just walked away.

‘Great,’ I thought. ‘Now you insulted him or something.’

But a short moment later I saw him bringing a winter sweater, and signaling to me with his hand to go downstairs.

I followed him. It was cold outside, a December afternoon. The sun was soon about to set. Yasser told me to Google a name of some Arab singer on my phone, and within a minute we were listening to a typical Dabke song. Yasser then said, “Louder!”

I said, “That’s as loud as it gets.”

He motioned with his hand that I should leave it. I noticed that he didn’t speak much, mostly gesturing with subtle finger movements whatever he wanted to say.

He held my hand firmly, and began. I followed him, watching his legs carefully: swing left foot towards your right – cross over right foot with left – return to starting position – step further to the right – uncross the legs – kick right, kick left, raise right knee towards the waist, kick left. Then eight stomps, then again from the beginning.

I think Yasser was impressed with how I caught on. But then he made it more complicated. I enjoyed the challenge, and after few times of each series of steps, I would get them correct, and he’d continued to another series of steps. I loved it!

Yasser seemed pleased as well, and gestured that I should raise my head and not look down at his feet. I tried, but… I needed to see the steps! He gestured that the chest needs to be fully open and stretched. I did my best, and each time he looked back at me I tried to raise my chin, while still looking at the next step.

We both got hot and had to take our sweaters off. In the chilled evening, as the sun was setting, we danced with short sleeve T-shirts.

Then, when the sun was gone, Yasser smiled at me, and raised his eyebrows. He said two words to me as we got our things and went back inside. He pointed at me and said “Half Arab!”

I laughed.

When we returned to the main room I saw artworks all around the room, posters, doves, the Dome of the Rock, houses, people holding hands, writings in Arabic and Hebrew. Abigail seemed ecstatic over a shared work with Wazeera, they both painted big red roses with many words written around them. Wazeera glowed.

Muhammad and Anat asked us to form a circle. We did the last round for that weekend. I don’t remember what was said. All I remember is a sense of love, of closeness, of intimacy, of hope.

We all embraced each other as I, along with the rest of the Israelis, climbed on our bus. It was strange, to have these complete strangers, members of another other nation, our “enemies”, hugging us back. Hugging me back. Real hugs…

Then the bus left, and we waved goodbyes to the group in the parking lot. As the bus left Beit Jala and drove through the Jerusalem Mountains, heading west, the conversation in the bus was vibrant. We needed to share, to comment, to express. It was so different than the quiet ride we had on the way there, the morning before.

I was really elated, but nevertheless a worried thought crossed my mind. How will the next meeting be? In the next meeting we were to meet in a Palestinian village. One that ceased to exist in 1948. This was to be sort of Nakba 101, the Palestinian destruction memory revitalized, relived, in front of our eyes. No nice hotel, no sweets, no guitars, no crayons. Will we…? Will this gentle, volatile bond between us – will it hold?

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h1<>{color:#000;}. “Depopulated”?

January 6, 2012

Age 26

It’s been three weeks since our emotional weekend in Beit Jala. Now, Thursday morning, all of us Israelis, the 15 members along with Anat, were sitting in the parked bus. We had arrived an hour ago at the foothills of Jerusalem. But there was no use for us to go out, as the Palestinian members were late. It’s not exactly that they are late – they all arrived on time for their bus to leave Beit Jala, but the checkpoint they need to cross was reportedly especially slow. So Muhammad told Anat on the phone.

Finally, after about an hour, Muhammad called Anat and let her know that they had just crossed, which meant they should arrive in about half an hour.

It was awkward to sit in the bus, waiting for them, knowing that it is our army and our checkpoint that slowed them down. Yet I tried to tell myself, that with all the niceties and friendships, there was a simple reason for these checkpoints. They were there to protect us.

But nevertheless I felt… ashamed. I thought “Great. Now they’ll come and they will have an attitude about being detained in a checkpoint.”

I was anyhow already tense about today. My abdominals were tight. I was not excited, to say the least. Why couldn’t we just meet again in the hotel?

As we waited, Anat told us that like in all activities that take place on the Israeli side, a few of the Palestinian members did not get permits to come. “Security,” Anat explained, “rarely do we have a group in which everyone gets a permit to cross,” she said.

“Who didn’t get a permit?” Abigail asked.

“Ibrahim,” Anat said, “and, I think, Yasser.”

Omer frowned, “Why?! Ibrahim would have loved to be here!”

Anat made a sad smile. “I’m sorry.”

Omer sighed, “It’s probably because he sat in jail, after trying to attack a checkpoint. But that was years ago!”

I was upset too. I thought of Yasser, of his firm hand, his proud posture. He was a reporter, a writer. He should have been granted a permit. He was also in his late fifties or so, what harm could he cause? Pass him through security, OK, but let him through! Not giving him a permit to join a group in which he was a full member…

Finally their bus came down the gravel road. I breathed in and came down off the bus with the rest of the Israelis to greet the Palestinian artists.

I was surprised to see them smiling and… happy? They did not seem resentful at all. On the contrary. I hugged them, really happy to see them. Khassan… Nassib with his Palestinian headdress around his neck… Wazeera! I greeted her, avoiding a handshake, putting my hand on my chest. She laughed and exclaimed, “Jonathan how are you!”

Then we gathered around our tour guide. He introduced himself as Issa, and spoke both in Arabic and Hebrew.

Issa explained that the ground we were now standing on “Was populated since ancient times; it’s Hebrew name, Nephtoah, is mentioned in the Bible as a border between the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Romans and Byzantines called it Nephtho. It was even settled during the time of the Crusaders. Since the Ottoman Empire era, the village was referred to by the name Lifta.”

We then began walking after him in one long line on a narrow trail. Around us slowly appeared ruins of Arab houses, built from the iconic Jerusalem stone. Then we stopped near the third house.

“Lifta,” Issa explained, “had several hundred people, and records show of taxes paid on crops of wheat, barley, olives, fruit orchards and vineyards. After the Ottomans, in 1917 when the British soldiers won over Palestine, Lifta surrendered to the British forces with white flags and, as a symbolic gesture, gave the keys to the village to the soldiers.”

“By then,” Issa continued, “Lifta had a population of nearly 1500 people, all Muslims. The total land area was over 8000 dunams.”

“Wow,” some said.

“Right,” Issa said, “lots of land all throughout the Jerusalem hills. The farmers of Lifta marketed their produce in the Jerusalem markets.”

Issa sighed. “Starting with the UN Partition plan in 1947, violence erupted in the Jerusalem area. Immediately the day after the UN Plan was announced, a Jewish passenger bus was attacked in Jerusalem, and two days later the Mamilla area, most prevalently owned by Jewish businesses, was attacked. As the days progressed, the road to and from Jerusalem heading west, connecting the Jewish population of the city, some 100,000 people, was constantly attacked by Arabs from nearby villages.

“Simultaneously,” Issa continued, “Jewish militants attacked Arab villages near the road heading west, including here, in Lifta, where a coffee house on the main road was attacked by Jewish militias, with six Arabs killed and seven wounded. This led to the fleeing of some of Lifta residents.”

I looked around at the houses. It must have been a rather rich village. The houses were grand.

“In March 1948,” Issa continued, “22 Jews were killed on the road heading to Jerusalem, and around the country two other convoys were targeted by Arab militants, with most of their members killed.

“Then,” Issa continued, “in April Jewish militias attacked the nearby village of Deir Yassin, and massacred 107 people, including women and children.”

As he said these words, I heard Abigail sighing, “Oh my God…”

A few of us tut-tutted.

Issa continued, “The killings were condemned by the Jewish leadership—”

Abigail interrupted, “Of course they were condemned, it’s un-Jewish!”

Issa continued, “Yes, but still, the mental terror was felt in the surrounding villages, like here, in Lifta, where the last residents left after that attack, fearing another Deir Yassin Massacre recurring here.”

Then Issa began walking up the trail, and we treaded along. Abigail was supported by Wazeera. Daniela, the photographer, took photos all around, and so did a few of us.

As I walked near the many abandoned stone houses I felt antsy, unhappy, and overall… I felt attacked. No one was saying anything to me – it was me talking to myself. ‘Jewish people committing a massacre. Children. Women…?’

I responded, ‘Hey, it was a war, you gotta understand that!’ I said, ‘Hey, a few years earlier greater massacres took place throughout the Arab world, done by Arabs against the Jews, like the Farhud massacre in Baghdad in 1941? And what about the 1947 Aden riots massacre in Yemen? Or the 1947 massacre in Aleppo, Syria, which led to the fleeing of half the Jewish population there, with ten synagogues and 150 houses were set ablaze?’

I walked around the buildings, and imagined the families who used to live here. In my head I was in constant battle. ‘And hey, what about the 1929 Hebron massacre? The 1938 Tiberias massacre? The 1945 massacre in Egypt? The 1945 Anti-Jewish riots in Tripolitania, Libya, with more than more than 140 Jews killed by Arab mobs? We didn’t invent this! This was just a means of protecting ourselves!’

‘Oh yeah?’ I protested back, ‘Really? How exactly does killing mothers, children, innocent people serve as a defense?’

‘Well,’ I answered, ‘the Arabs shouldn’t have done the whole siege on Jerusalem, literally starving thousands of Jews, while shooting and killing the convoys climbing up to Jerusalem bringing food. It was a war, Jonathan, a WAR…’

‘Alright, alright, a war,’ I responded to myself, ‘but even in war you shouldn’t kill innocent women and children, and terrorize all these people away from their villages…’

I was depressed.

Really depressed.

Issa led us into the abandoned mosque. I felt… ashamed.

We then continued into an old olive oil production house. I pulled out my sketchbook, trying to distract me from my inner dialogues.

What was most evident in the whole place was the absence of life.

My Palestinian fellows were taking pictures, many of them. Rather than frowning, most of them were happy to be there, excited. Nassib asked me to be photographed with him, near one of the houses, with the view of the valley beneath us. He smiled. I couldn’t. I thought, ‘How can he smile here?’

At the end of the long tour we went back to the buses, which then took us to have lunch in a community center not far away.

After lunch we formed a circle with our chairs. Then, with the gentle facilitation of Anat and Mohammad, we opened up.

I was one of the first to share. I said that it was difficult for me. I said that I did not condone what these Jewish militias did in Deir Yassin. Yet, I said, “It is sad that over the decades that passed since then, Arab countries did not enable the refugees to set their permanent homes and instead encouraged their ever temporary dwellings in refugee camps. Both sides had refugees,” I concluded.

Nassib said, “Why can’t the Palestinians return to their homes? These are empty, as if waiting for their owners to return.”

Leah, the Israeli opera singer, responded in her turn, “As painful as it is to see these houses abandoned, it is impossible for refugees to return. Most villages are not like Lifta, most of them have new houses, they have been built over, with many of the Jews that fled from Arab countries settled in them.” Leah added, “Palestinian refugees should receive compensation instead, and the Jews who left their homes in Arab countries should also receive compensation.”

Listening to the arguments back and forth, I was wondering where this whole conversation was heading. It was then that Muhammad intervened, “Enough, we are not here to offer solutions, but to express what we feel.”

Anat joined and said, “Nor we are here to compare the sufferings of one side to the other’s. We are here to learn of each other’s narratives. Not to judge them or to compete with who has suffered more. We are here to hear. I want to invite you to hear one another.”

And that’s when my heart began opening. I heard the feeling of despair, the feeling of injustice, the feeling of loneliness in deportation, of not belonging. I could hear resentment not only towards my nation, but towards humanity as a whole. Towards wars.

My heart, stiffened by feeling attacked all day (mostly from my own inner chatter), began to finally open. I could feel the Palestinian pain. The pain to which we all could all relate. The pain which made us brothers and sisters, which enabled us to empathize with one another. I could have easily been in their shoes and they – in mine.

We were all victims. Even the violent ones on both sides. Victims of wars, victims of hatred, victims of fear.

Muhammad and Anat had to stop us whenever we began going astray into policies and fact-checking. “Speak about yourself,” they would tell the person speaking, “about why it touches you, what it means to you.”

Pain would then surface. Childhood memories. Family stories. Stories of loss, loss of dear ones, loss of houses, loss of fields, of olive groves. Loss.

As the bus headed toward Tel Aviv later that evening, we were all quiet. Our next meeting was to be our last. And this time, it was our pain that would be openly exposed. And I dreaded that. I dreaded going there. I thought of Amal, whom I haven’t seen in years. Of the Holocaust folder, of Shayaan, of that night.

I didn’t want to go there again.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. I Dreaded Entering This Place

January 2012

Age 26

I looked at the large cement building, with its shiny entrance doors. I didn’t want to go in.

Each and every dignitary who comes to visit Israel comes here. It is a must. A mandatory visit. Many of these dignitaries leave changed, touched. Some in tears.

I recognize its importance. But ever since I’ve been here last time, at age… – what was it, 16? – ever since then I made a mental note not to visit this place again.

Yet now I was about to enter. Haven’t been inside for a decade, though friends from the college who came to Israel always begged me to go with them.

“I’m sorry,” I would say. “I’ll wait for you outside.”

Should I really go in now?

Everyone was entering. Khassan stood near me, and said, “Are you coming in Jonathan?”

I sighed and nodded, and we both entered the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I felt my heart sinking.

Yet it was important for me to go in. Regardless of my emotions. It was not an everyday occasion to see a large group of Arabs visiting the Holocaust Museum. Of the approximately one million visitors this place sees each year, I wondered how many Arabs visit it. Probably not many.

Many Arabs around the world, I learned from personal encounter, don’t know much about the Holocaust. And if they do know, they often don’t understand exactly what it meant for the Jewish people. What it meant to us. What it means to me.

Over the years I grew more and more sensitive to this topic. As a child I could easily roam the corridors of this museum or of ones like it. I could hear the stories, be touched, but then brush them off as I would pull my chocolate sandwich out afterwards.

As a young man, however, I came to understand that the option of just “brushing it off” had disappeared for me. From my late teens things have begun to “stick” way too much. If I’d read something about the Holocaust, it would come to haunt me in my dreams for many weeks. Even movies like the magnificent 2006 film “Four Minutes”, which just vaguely mention the Holocaust, later could not leave me for months. If I read of human suffering, I have to skip paragraphs and pages. It gets to my soul. It depresses me. It leaves me wounded for months.

So I learnt NOT to go into these places.

And yet, now, with this group, I MUST.

We walk passed the security. I’m happy we passed through smoothly, all of us. That is, expect Yasser and Ibrahim, who did not get permits.

My Palestinian counterparts seem to me excited. They have heard from us, the Israeli participants, a little about what the Holocaust meant to us. They seem sincerely eager to see, to learn.

And so we arrive at the main exhibit hall.

The atmosphere inside is quiet, almost sacred. I notice how some group of older Israelis look at us strangely. I see how they look at Wazeera, with her head covering.

Then I think of Nassib. Where is he? Usually he wears his traditional headdress around his neck. “Where is Nassib?” I ask Khassan.

“Jonathan,” I hear Nassib’s voice, “I’m right next to you!”

I smile. I look at him. No headdress. It’s odd to see him without it. I say nothing, nor does he.

Our guide begins speaking. “This video shows the life before the Holocaust…”

My mind is still occupied with Nassib. Something in the fact he has taken the headdress off, for now, for this visit, warms my heart. I think he knows that it can rub people the wrong way, especially at the Holocaust museum…

And yet, I think, he should be able to wear his headdress wherever.

And yet, I am relieved. So many contradictions.

I look up at the tall screen on our left. The Jewish community prior to the Holocaust… Men praying. Families gathering in living rooms. Mother and daughter cook together in the kitchen. Children going to school with books in hand.

We continue. The guide speaks again. Anti-Semitism. Rules. Restrictions.

I have studied about these things in school. To an extent I feel like I know too much. I don’t want to learn more.

And yet I need to be here with my Palestinian friends. They don’t know much. Respecting them, I should remain here.

I see the pictures around me. Black and white, piercing into my heart.

I think to myself, ‘I hate this place.’

I walk near a glass vitrine, inside is a brown shirt, old, worn out. On the sleeve is the yellow star badge. The guide explains how the Jews were ordered to sew it on their outer garments to mark them as Jews in public. “It was a badge of shame,” she explains.

Piles of Books in a large fire. “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

I begin to feel some nausea. ‘Why am I here?’

A photo of bodies, a mountain of dead bodies. I am reminded of Shayaan, at the college, gasping, “Oh my God!”

I see Khassan’s face, disbelieving, nodding ‘no’ in amazement.

Wazeera’s eyes look moist. She walks alongside Abigail. We all walk near real railroad tracks. I think of the trains.

I feel my eyes water. I think, ‘Man up, Jonathan! Just a few more minutes. An hour or so and you’ll be out.’

The guide keeps talking, but I can’t concentrate. A photo of a Nazi soldier pointing a rifle at a child.

I keep walking. I think, ‘We are progressing too slow!’ I try not to look anymore at the artifacts and photos.

I’m overwhelmed. We pass by a gate. I cannot but look up. I recognize it from Auschwitz:

“Arbeit macht frei” – “Work sets you free”

‘Right,’ I think bitterly, ‘as if.’

My eyes tear up, and I begin to sob. Shit. I need to go out, GO OUT OF HERE! I need some air. I walk past our group, toward the exit. I walk fast. Then I run.

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h1<>{color:#000;}. “jonathan’s pain is my pain too.”

January 25^th^ 2012

Age 26

I sat outside the museum for what seemed like hours. Then I began seeing members of our group coming out, seeming tired, exhausted.

I looked at the faces. Some eyes are red. Some eyes are gazing. Few members light up cigarettes, smoke in silence.

Then Khassan spotted me. “Where were you?” he asked.

“I… that’s not for me,” I mumbled.

“Man…” he said, and put his arm around my shoulder, “I’m so sorry…”

I looked at him, puzzled.

“I’m so sorry, Jonathan,” Khassan said, “for what they did to you…”

I didn’t know what to say. I hugged him quietly.

A few minutes later Anat said we’ll go now to the bus. We are headed to Beit Jala, to the Everest Hotel, for our last session.

When the bus finally arrived at the Everest Hotel, we were happy to meet again with Yasser and Ibrahim. Ibrahim hugged Omer, and the two began joking. Yasser nodded to me. I nodded back to him.

Abigail hurried to hug Yasser, who hugged her back helplessly. Then she held his hands, “I’m so sorry, Yasser, this stupid army, you should have been with us!”

I smile. She’s a character, this Abigail. She said what I would I have liked to say. Then we all climb up to the main room. It’s good to be here again.

Anat and Muhammad remind us of the usual guidelines: “Share what you feel, don’t attack, don’t criticize, these are narratives, only personal points of view.”

I listen as the round begins. Leah says, “I was used to it, I grew up hearing and learning of the Holocaust. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. Her two brothers died in Auschwitz.”

Dana says, “With this group, having you Palestinians with us, I saw much of it with fresh eyes. I appreciate that you came and visited the museum with us, showing all this respect.”

Khassan says, “I knew of the Holocaust, I heard of it. But I didn’t know really, how it was, how intense it was.”

Then Nassib says “I felt sorry for you, these things should never be done to human beings.”

When Wazeera’s turn comes, she says, “I saw this photo, of a soldier directing his gun towards a mother and child, and I thought, how could you, who went through this, do the same thing to us?”

I move in my seat uncomfortably, as few of us Israelis erupt, saying, “How can you compare?” and “The same thing?!”

Anat hushes us firmly, calling each person’s name, saying, “We’ll do another round, you’ll be able to respond.”

Wazeera, a little alarmed by the response, adds just “I just thought that…”

Abigail’s turn is next. “Wazeera, I’m surprised with you!” she exclaims as her eyes glitter with tears, “How can you compare the mass killing… the industrial slaughterhouses, to what we are doing to you Palestinians?”

I look at Wazeera’s face, as she listens to the translation on the headphones.

Abigail continues, “This was a genocide! The intent was to systematically erase the whole Jewish people. We Israelis do many bad things, I am the first to admit it! I am the first to take responsibility!” she exclaims, “But nowhere, nowhere do we have slaughterhouses! Nowhere do we have gas chambers…! We are guilty of many things, but we are not, and have not, imposed a holocaust on your people!”

Now it’s Ibrahim’s turn. “I have not been to the museum, so I don’t know exactly… but it feels as if because of what the Germans did to you, you treat us this way. But it is not us, it’s them, we haven’t done anything to you!”

When my turn comes I breathe in deeply and say, “I can see, Wazeera, why you saw resemblance, there is resemblance.” I repeat my words, waiting for the translation to be absorbed, “there is indeed resemblance. But resemblance does not mean equivalence, it is far from being identical, what happened there, and what happens here.” I then turn to Ibrahim, “I agree with you too, Ibrahim, I do think that much of the trauma that we, as Jews, carry, has influenced our ethics, our behavior, and our actions towards the Palestinians.” I take another breath. This day has been so emotional. “But saying,” I continued, ‘We haven’t done anything to you’ does not seem to me historically correct.” I look at Anat and Muhammad, signaling that I am about to finish, “Both sides, both sides, if you remember the two lectures that were given in this room by the two doctors, both sides took parts in being violent towards the other side. And saying ‘We didn’t do anything to you’ makes me feel as if you do not see my pain, or Abigail’s pain, with her grandfather being killed in Jerusalem in 1920, before much killing was done by any Jews.”

I lean back, I feel short of breath. These are the kinds of arguments that I always try to refrain from: ‘You did this to me,’ ‘No you did this to me first’ and ‘Why didn’t you instead do…’

I’m having a hard time listening to the next person, Nassib, sitting next to me. His words finally dawn on me, “Jonathan’s pain too,” he says.

I look at him. “It is all our pain. I am willing to feel Jonathan’s pain,” he says and puts his hand on my knee, “and I feel that Jonathan is willing to take responsibility and hear my pain, feel my pain too,” he says.

I nod enthusiastically at him. Nassib continues, “We all need to remember why we are here. It’s us that chose to be here, that chose to meet the other side, though many told us we are stupid to do so. If Wazeera says she feels like this reminds her of what’s happening in Palestine, then don’t jump on her and attack her, she only said what many of us feel.”

I sigh. I look at Anat and Muhammad. They say nothing.

Daniela’s turn is next. “I didn’t want to say much, but to mostly listen,” she says, “but as a photographer I must tell you that photos are something very powerful, as they tell a story. That photo you saw, Wazeera, was part of units who were created, literally, to go to villages, take out all the Jews, have them dig a huge hole in the ground, and then shoot them all and give the task of covering the grave to a few other Jews, who at the end were shot too.” She sighed. “When you see this photo, it tells you this story. You can photograph the exact same photo in Palestine, with a Jewish soldier pointing his gun at a mother carrying her baby, but, and it’s a big but,” Daniela sighs, “though the picture will be identical, same angle, same setting, it does not necessarily tells of the same story.” She leans back against the chair, “that’s all I wanted to say.”

After a few more people speak, Wazeera’s turn comes again. She talks excitedly, “Abigail,” she says, “I didn’t say that what happened to you there is what you are doing to us here! I said, that it reminded me of that, that’s all.” She sighs, and then begins to cry, “I think of the suffering… you have gone through, and we too… of all of our suffering, and I don’t know when this suffering will stop… but it has to stop!”

Abigail hugs her.

They cry together.

I cannot stop myself from crying too. Nassib puts his hand on mine. Dana smiles at the two of us through tears.

Silence ensues in the room as all of us honor Wazeera’s and Abigail’s courage to be so vulnerable with each other, with us.

A few hours later, just before sunset, we all hug by the two buses. One heads to Tel Aviv and the other to Ramallah. I hug each person. Ahmad, the kind translator… Ibrahim, the former prisoner who was now an artist and a university student… Khassan, the talented singer and poet… Nassib, the young graphic designer… Muhammad, the brave facilitator… I even hug the reticent Yasser, the reporter and Dabke dancer… As my eyes catch Wazeera’s eyes, I put my hand on my chest. She, too, puts her hand on her chest. We stand there for a long moment.

Anat hurries us all onto the bus. I see Ibrahim and Omer hugging. I see Wazeera and Abigail kissing goodbye. So many close bonds, created over such a short period of time.

We all promised to keep in touch, and to come to different activities organized by the forum. Next month, for example, there is an activity of planting an olive grove near a Palestinian village, with some settle rs joining too. Many said they’ll come.

As the bus drives away from Beit Jala, driving in winding roads between the Jerusalem Mountains, I look out the window. I see olive groves and orchards. I see delicate vineyards planted on steep mountainsides.

This experience… I feel like it should be available for more people… Perhaps like a gathering, a free and open one, in Jerusalem? My friend mentioned the name of a Jerusalem-based Palestinian activist called Riman. Should I contact her? Should we do something together? That could be so… wonderful, if we do…

I think of Atheer. I should write to him. It’s been a while. I think of Amal, and Jenin, and Shayaan. As the bus winds down the Judean foothills I think of Aaron Shteinberg. He should have been 26 now. My age. I think of Alexei and Tom, Jasmine’s friends from Gaza. I think of Jasmine crying on Alexei’s birthday in my army office. And then I think of Abigail and Wazeera crying in each other’s arms.

I see the sun setting over the land, the whole land. And I can see peace coming to this land. At last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End

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Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude to the many people who saw me through this book; to all those who provided support, talked things over, read, wrote, offered comments, allowed me to quote their remarks and assisted in the editing, proofreading and design. Tania von-Ljeshk for the editing and the support; Scott Durham for the wonderful photo; Doug Ellis Photography for making me look good (; Slava “Inkjet” Noh for the cover design; Susan Leibtag for the encouragement; Jessica Medina for all the insights; Marie-Noëlle Bélanger-Lévesque for the support. This book could have not come to life without you.

I would like to thank my parents, Betty and Isaac, for their love and constant encouragement over the years. This book is a tribute to the education you have given me.

I would like to thank my family: Steve, for believing in me; Romi for your love; Yoav, for your praise; Moria, for your wisdom; Elinoy, for your encouragement; Yanush, for your brotherhood in all times; Ilana and Shlomo Harel who were like second parents to me; Rachel and Michael Cherkis and the whole loving Cherkis family. Tal, Shirya and Moshe Bar-Ness; Samantha Silverman and Cyndi Silverman – I am blessed to call you all family.

I would like to thank my teachers: Geoffrey and Lilian Tindyebwa for countless of hours of listening and support; Peter and Alison Gardner for believing in me and encouraging me along the way. To all of those who left their mark of love on my soul: Edna Ziv-Av, Rachel Abramovitch, Rina Baruch, Michelle and Ian Hewitt, Laura Verhegge, Cynthia Mackenzie, Daniela Kraemer; Sherry and Bryan Crowther, Gita Baikovitz, Michal Pinkwasser, Shifra Milshtein, and Arthur Kogan.

I would like to thank my mentors: Jack Canfield, for showing me a new kind of manhood; Shuli Ziv, for always telling the truth; Carol Kline, for your unconditional love; Ilan Hasson for bringing light in dark times; Avi Ben-Simhon for believing in me early on; Dudu Gerstein for encouraging me along the way with a knowing smile; Uvik Pundak, for always being there for me. To all of the inspiring figures in my life: Dr. Deb Sandella, Dr. Khursheed Sethna, Dr. Holly King, Alissa Bickar, Bryan Mannion, Gloria Belendez Ramirez, Lotte Vesterli, Ather Alibahi, Rina Hafiz and Amy Cady

I would like to thank my heroes inspiring me from afar: Iyanla Vanzant for finding peace from broken pieces; Oprah Winfrey for always sharing what you know for sure; Joel Osteen for the inspiration; Les Brown for shooting for the moon; T. D. Jakes for showing perseverance; Elizabeth Gilbert for never ceasing; Glennon Doyle Melton for being a true warrior; Lizzie Velásquez for your beauty; Nick Vujicic for your devotion; Tyler Oakley for your authenticity; Sidney Poitier for teaching me to say ‘no’; Neil Strauss for constantly seeking the Truth; and Whitney Thore for standing against shaming and also for doing it whichever way (;

To my inspiring peace warriors: Jean and Dr. Reed Holmes for adopting me into your nest while I was still a little chick; Sami Al Jundi and Jen Marlowe for the great inspiration and for bringing sunlight into my life!; Ian Knowles for teaching me how to walk my talk; Andrea Kross and the Kross family; Sarah Stooß and the Stooß family; Dina and Oded Gilad; Debbie Rimon Ansbacher; Lee Rimon and Yitshak De Lange, Riman Barakat, Cara Bereck, Michelle Gordon, Atheer Elobadi, Karym Barhum, Tom and Hind, Max Budovitch, Micah Hendler, Eliyahu Mcclean, Mark Gopin, Amer and Asmaa Merza, Tarek Kandakji, Adi Yekutieli, Adaya Utnik, Alisa Rubin Peled, Peter Berkowitz, Elliot Jager, Chaya Esther Pomeranz, David Keller, Anita Haviv-Horiner, Oded Rose, Idrees Mawassi, Dalia Bassa, Rutie Atzmon, Ronny Edry, Anat Marnin, Muhammad Elbou, Dana Wegman, Omer Golan, Vardi Kahana, Rakefet Enoch, Avi Deul, Robi Damelin, Khalil Bader, Eyal Naveh, Uri Ayalon, Yael Ben-Horin Naot, Yosef Avi Yair Engel, Noa Karmon, Sivan Shani and Anchinalo Salomon and all the members of the President Young Leaders’ Forum – you inspire me!

To all of my Pearson friends and UWC friends – I feel honored to call you my family.

To all of my Esperanto family – to mia E-o familio! Mi amas vin!

To my friends: Sharona Kramer and the Kramer family, Daniel Prag and the Prag family, Hila Bakman and the Bakman family, Netta Granit-Ohayon and the Granit family, Edna Zamir, Hani Oren June Moore, Judy Martorelli, Salah Assanoussi, Mimi Green, Divya Lalchandani, Tara Sirianni, Michelle Tessaro, Julia Darmon Abikzer, Pat Newman, Aleta and Faith Kelly, Ileana and Andrea Tarkan, Sari Cortes, Vanessa VandeNes-Parrish, Lisa Purcell-Rorick, Michael Mann, Jennifer Zorrilla, Yinon Tsarum, Judith and Stephan Beiner, Clifton McCracken, Bobbi and Yaki Vendriger, Gaby and Dr. Jacob Reiss, Abigail and Dan Chill, Ileana Bejarano, Saba Misaghian, Jana Morehouse, Carmen Braden, Amanda Leigh, Samuel Thrope, Amir Djalovski, Dvir Pariente, Chen Arad, Natan Voitenkov, Niki Kotsenko, Itai Froumin, Gadi BenMark, Uri Shafir, Kay Wilson, Daniel Beaudoin, Your constant encouragement is water to my inner garden. Thank you!

Last and not least: I beg forgiveness of all those who have been with me over the course of the years and whose names I have failed to mention.

Above all I want to thank my wife, Hallel, who supported and encouraged me in this magical journey. I love you!

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contact

The author can be reached via e-mail at

[[email protected]
**]

Or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as:

KislevTV

about the author

Jonathan Kis-Lev is an Israeli peace activist, artist and television personality.

Jonathan participated in joint Jewish-Arab projects from the age of 11, and came to note in his diary that the Palestinian kids “seemed to actually want peace!”

He spent his teen years in various peace programs, and at the age of 16 became a young Israeli delegate to a UN model college, UWC Pearson College, in Vancouver, Canada, where he lived for two years.

In his twenties Jonathan co-founded several peace programs in the Holy Land, and participated in various activities led by the Bereaved Families Forum For Peace. He was taken under the wing of Israel’s ninth President, Mr. Shimon Peres, who encouraged him to bravely share his experience and opinions about the future of the Middle East with the world.

Jonathan lives in Israel’s Galilee, with his wife Hallel and their daughter Sarah. This is his first book .


My Quest For Peace: One Israeli's Journey From Hatred To Peacemaking

“I hate Arabs!” I thought to myself. Of course. Who wouldn’t? Because of these “Arabs” I am crammed here, into this small room, forced to wear this stinky rubber-smelling scary black gas mask. My older sister, who is like a mother to me, seems anxious and terrified. Even my older brother seems distressed. My two young sisters are crying. My mother is trying to console my baby sister, but to no avail. My father is nervously playing with the radio, wanting to make sure that we are on the “Silent Wave” radio station. I was told that if we are on the Silent Wave station we will hear where the missiles landed and who are the casualties. That is, if we are lucky enough to be those reported to, rather than those reported about. I am five years old. This is how Jonathan Kis-Lev describes the first time he realized who "Arabs" were. From there to being one of Israel's most prominent peace activists was "quite a journey". In this book Jonathan takes us through this journey, in a most authentic and genuine way. Jonathan Kis-Lev won a Presidential recognition for his peacemaking from Israeli President Shimon Peres. Kis-Lev is a well known activist, as well as artist and TV host in Israel. His voice, coming from a new generation of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, brings hope for those wishing for peace in the Holy Land. In this book you will find: Why are the Israelis and Palestinians fighting? What are the best ways to bring about peace in the region? What is the role of young leaders, of Facebook and social media, in bringing abut peace? What can YOU do to support peacemakers in the Middle East? Jonathan portrays in the book his many experiences with the "other side": Going to an art workshop with both Israeli and Palestinian kids at age 11 Participating in a youth movement for peace Representing Israeli in an international college for peace Working toward mutual understanding and recognition of the other side's narrative Working with bereaved families who lost their beloveds due to the conflict Using art and graffiti to bring about positive change in the region The author brings a very frank, genuine and authentic voice, representing a new generation of peacemakers in the Middle East. Marked by honesty and compassion for Palestinians and Israelis alike, My Quest for Peace illuminates both sides' experience through the story of one man’s struggle for peace.

  • ISBN: 9781370994267
  • Author: Jonathan Kis-Lev
  • Published: 2016-11-02 11:55:32
  • Words: 73934
My Quest For Peace: One Israeli's Journey From Hatred To Peacemaking My Quest For Peace: One Israeli's Journey From Hatred To Peacemaking